“It was no accident that I was born in Bizana in the Eastern Cape – activism is in the water.”
Anele Mda, the leader of the Congress of the People’s (Cope’s) youth movement and an MP, hails from the small rural village where Oliver Tambo was born and where Nelson Mandela married Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
“It is a humble beginning, but you are reminded early on of all the blessed diamonds in the rough with strong familiy ties that were formed in this place.”
Mda is 32 years old. She has dedicated 3 years of her political life to the breakaway party. The rest to the ANC.
She says the ANC changed. “They are not an honest bunch. I could no longer associate myself with it. Cope is where I belong.”
She says it with gusto, but quickly adds that her party does have problems.
Mda and some of her colleagues may be recalled. She will go where she’s needed.
“Look, I have always been naughty – but not Yizo Yizo-naughty,” she corrects, referring to the programme that deals with drug abuse, sex and crime among the youth.
“I have always had my say. And I am not a groupie-girl. I do not follow the majority because the majority follows them.”
Her outspokeness has seen to it that she was suspended within the first year of Cope’s existence. She called a fellow MP a white bitch.
She does try to remember, especially when conflicts arise: bullies are also bullied.
She doesn’t beat around the bush and talks immediately: “It’s time to govern.”
“I am not only talking about provincial government. I am talking about national government,” says Lindiwe Mazibuko while she charges her iPod, shuts down her nifty laptop and sets her smartphone to silent.
Mazibuko, at 30, is one of the young ones in the largest opposition party – the Democratic Alliance (DA).
In her own words she is still a novice, busy writing her first Act.
Being an MP is her first job. She is also the national spokesperson for the party – on everything.
One of her predecessors in the key position was Helen Zille.
“I am black, but what does that mean?” she asks. She is also the only woman in this tale who asks why black women in opposition is a talking point at all.
“The ANC’s way of using colour as basis for diversity is a crude repeat of the past. They are actually repeating our sins.
That does nothing to change our world. You only learn to trust stereotypes. That is not cool.”
“Look at affirmative action – perhaps the way in which we apply it should be reviewed.
Tim Harris [a fellow Durbanite and DA-colleague] and I both had privileged upbringings and travelled after school – he through Africa and I through Europe. We are armed with enough tools to build our own future.
Perhaps affirmative action should address whether I, as an individual, need it. Not because I am black.”
She studied rhetoric and politics – and can also speak French.
Politics is hard work, she says, and sometimes the bottom falls out.
“Every job has its issues. Mine is a last-minute kind of job. When something happens it is important, and one’s social life suffers.”
She reflects a little. “I feel badly because friends and family have had to accept that if they want to see me they have to schedule to my diary.”
“There is no other place that makes me happier than the committee room,” gushes Mavis Matladi.
The 52-year-old is the parliamentary leader and general-secretary of the United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP).
Matladi has a Master’s Degree in higher education and was happy as a teacher until she entered politics “for silly reasons”.
She explains that when Bophuthatswana fell in 1994 people were victimised for their support of the homeland.
“People lost their jobs or could not get promotions because they were not ANC supporters, and they were labelled troublemakers.”
Her husband was then unemployed for 10 years. “Sad things happened,” said the mother of three.
Matladi taught during the week and on weekends she provided training for disadvantaged women and so, with support from the ground, she and others in her party convinced Lucas Mangope to participate in the new South Africa.
She has now been in Parliament for little more than a year.
To great embarrassment and irritation of the ANC MPs, Matladi was elected president of the Pan-African Parliament’s (PAP’s) women’s caucus.
In the corridors of Parliament ANC MPs commented that president only means “chairperson”. That does not bother her.
In any event, she has plans for PAP.
“We must become a proper legislature if we want to save PAP, otherwise it will die a silent death.”
Hopefully these plans pan out better than her plans to exercise.
“I am always buying exercise machines with the best of intentions. But now they are all over the house!” she laughs.
Patricia Lebenya-Ntanzi, IFP-MP, made a statement in the National Assembly on the babies that have died as a consequence of the national public servants’ strike.
She delivered it very calmly, but now – back in her office – she is upset again.
“It shocks you. We have options today. Why do people still do these bad things?” She pushes the books and papers around in front of her on the desk – she is also a student with Unisa.
“Opposition politics isn’t always easy. It’s a numbers game.
It does not matter how well your party does, you are always in the minority. But that does not mean you cannot express your views.”
Pat, as she is known to her colleagues, at 33 is the leader of the IFP Youth Brigade, and came to Parliament in 2006 to participate in the youth parliament.
One year later she became an MP.
She is known as one of those people whose brain is always in overdrive and she remains focused.
“Actually, now that I think about it, we had our last youth parliament two years ago. I will have to write to the Speaker [Max Sisulu]. The elections last year and the World Cup this year are not excuses.
“You know,” she says, “among our youth you find the largest percentage of our voters, largest number of our unemployed, people affected by HIV/Aids, and involved in crime. Why do we push them aside?”
Stuck on her wall is a newspaper clipping. Her son is quoted on his idea of what a neurosurgeon is.
“He sounds like a politician.” She is married with two children.
Then back to the IFP. “The media says we are dying. Or that we are only for Zulus.
“During the last weekend of August we won the SRC elections on the QwaQwa campus of the University of the Free State. In the Free State of all places.”
As one leaves her office it affirms the notion that if you want something done, give it to someone who already has too many tasks.