OPINION | Debunking popular myths - the personal is political and the political is personal

(Via Twitter)
(Via Twitter)

Following a spat on social media, Nonceba Mhlauli breaks down some of the points that Phumzile Van Damme made about her appointment to the board of the NYDA. 

In his address to the nation on the government's plans to further combat the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa, President Ramaphosa announced that the sale of alcohol would be suspended with immediate effect due to the undesirable burden alcohol related traumas placed on the health system since the uplifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol on 1 June 2020.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, this announcement quickly led to a bizarre yet interesting Twitter debate on the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA).

The suspension of the sale of alcohol with "immediate effect" naturally upset some drinkers as many were caught off guard by this announcement.

Democratic Alliance Member of Parliament Phumzile Van Damme was quick to claim that there is no legal basis for owners of liquor stores not to open for business the next day. Many suspected that the claim lacked the sobriety required of a law maker and public representative and, in essence, was reckless comment.

Indeed, such a comment proved not only be reckless, but also wholly inexcusable.

I responded to Van Damme's tweet by stating that all announcements by the president are followed by regulations, which are gazetted by law. These amended regulations were promulgated and gazetted as at 12 July 2020.

Unfortunately, our exchange quickly degenerated into a rather distasteful personal attack, leading to, among other, Van Damme calling me "greedy" because I accepted a nomination to serve on the board of the NYDA.

Her argument was to the effect that I already have a job and should leave serving on the board of the NYDA to unemployed youth.

She also claims that, because I am an ANC activist, I am too political to serve on the NYDA board and that such positions should be limited to non-partisan individuals.

At face value, one could simply dismiss this sentiment as petty political jealousy from members of rival political parties. However, I do believe that, apart from the vitriol, there are some points Van Damme raises that are worth engaging.


The first point is the sentiment that employed people should not serve on boards as that amounts to "greediness".

Not only is this a pedestrian argument, what makes it more disturbing is that it is an argument raised by a law maker who has been in Parliament for more than one term of office.

The NYDA Act (Act 54 of 2008) does not preclude any employed person from being appointed to serve on the board.

Furthermore, the NYDA board is not an employment agency, hence members who serve on the board, like any other board, receive a stipend for work conducted and costs incurred related to the work of the board.

Furthermore, had the honourable member (I shall refer to her as such because it is the respectful thing to do) read the Act, she would have noted Section 9 (11) states that members employed by an organ of state are not entitled to remuneration or allowance.

Assuming that the honourable member has a fundamental problem with the fact that people who are employed apply for board positions, surely the honourable member is well within her powers as a law maker to propose any such amendments to that effect.

I took the liberty to do a quick google search on private members' bills proposed by the honourable member since her tenure in Parliament, and there are none.

Even if there were to be such legislative proposals, we would have to test whether such would pass constitutional muster, because ultimately her point is that one's right to association can be used as means of discrimination.

The second argument, which I think is a genuine grievance raised by many, is the highly politicised nature of the NYDA appointment process.

The general grievance is that since the establishment of the NYDA, and possibly even dating back to its predecessor organisations - the National Youth Commission and Umsobomvu Youth Fund - individuals who served on these structures were primarily ANC members.

The outcry being that this is to the exclusion of many deserving young people who are not aligned to a political party.

Cadre deployment

At the heart of this argument is the question around cadre deployment in the state.

Here, there are objective and subjective factors to consider.

The objective factor is that political parties contest elections based on the individual manifestos tailored from respective ideological positions. It is an objective reality that, whichever party governs the state, would do so based on their ideological outlook.

It is also a subjective reality that, any party which wins an election, would ensure that those entrusted to govern are aligned with their electoral mandate.

This is not something exclusive to South Africa; political systems around the world function in this manner. In fact, in countries like China, the public sector is deliberately highly politicised.

A fair criticism, which I do think the ANC must reflect on, is whether its cadre deployment has over the years remained true to its intent - that the best among us lead - or has it become an avenue to dispense patronage to our cronies at the detriment of service delivery and development?

The many instances of the abuse of cadre deployment must be corrected. Experience, skills sets, qualifications and attitude should never be compromised in any appointment.

It is, however, quite hypocritical, if not silly, for the DA to pretend as though they do not deploy their members to governance structures of public entities where they govern.

All one has to do is take a closer look at the Western Cape provincial government, where former DA Member of Parliament, Tim Harris, was deployed as the CEO of Wesgro.

In a country with rising levels of political apathy, which is evident from the declining numbers of voter turnout among young people, chastising young political activists is actually counter-intuitive and it does not deepen our democracy.

It is in our collective interest that young people be involved in decision-making structures of this country, not only at a party-political level, but in all spheres of society.


There is also a third claim which suggests that, by virtue of the current responsibilities which I have been entrusted, it may have been improper for me to accept the nomination. It is not clear how the conflict arises. Moreover, the claim casts aspersion on the parliamentary process.

Perhaps the honourable member has crystal ball that is able to predict what the outcomes of the parliamentary process will entail. Even if she did have this crystal ball, the law is clear about who makes the recommendation - it is Parliament which makes such a recommendation on the advice of various political parties.

As a young South African, where you work must not limit or circumscribe your choices.

If you are nominated or appointed to a position you believe you can excel at, you will consider it - just like all young South Africans should do.

We cannot tolerate a society, where political activists are discriminated against.

I dare say to young people: Contest space at all levels and spheres. This country is ours to inherit. Let us not be bystanders in its development.

Let us, equally, not be oblivious to the fact that politics does not start and end with the existence of political parties - the personal is political and the political is personal.

- Nonceba Mhlauli is currently the spokesperson for the Ministry in the Presidency. She is trained in media studies and politics, and holds a master’s degree in social policy. She writes in her personal capacity.

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