Meet the fresh political blood


Meet the fresh political blood

ALI VAN WYK checks out some of the exciting candidates from parties contesting the general election for the first time … and one independent.


THE South African parliament on the eve of the election is a depressing picture. The benches are filled with ageing MPs, many of whom are not qualified to get a job in the private sector, and they are in no rush to leave. Only 6% of MPs are under 35.

The age gap with the general population is one of the largest in the world. The average median age of MPs is 54, while the average age of the population is 27. In Denmark, the average age of MPs is 45 while the average age of the population is 41 — a good representation of the Scandinavian and European statistics in general.

However, the problem is not only age but dullness and a dearth of ideas.

But the ship may start to turn after an election featuring new parties and candidates. Here are 10 of them.

RISE Mzansi

Songezo Zibi — leader (No 1 on the national list)

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The late Russell Lynes, a former managing editor of Harper's Magazine, said: “Every good journalist has a novel in him — which is an excellent place for it." Songezo Zibi, 48, was a “good journalist" indeed, and has written two impressive books. However, Lynes did not say whether journalists can make good politicians. We shall have to see.

Zibi was impressive as editor of Business Day but he spent only three years in newspapers. His real vocation was corporate communication, better known as PR, at Volkswagen, Absa and Xstrata, among others,  and he is a well-rounded and skilled speaker. This experience prepared him better for the political stage than the newsroom.

Rise Mzansi was birthed by a political think-tank, the Rivonia Circle. Its central idea is that we need ethical leaders with fresh ideas who are not ordinary politicians, because people are tired of politicians' twaddle.

At technikon in Port Elizabeth (later part of Nelson Mandela University), Zibi — like many other thinking politicians — was a member of black consciousness groups such as Azapo and the PAC. He is a farm kid who grew up in Mqanduli in the former Transkei with his grandmother and grandfather, and he says this had a profound influence on his political consciousness.

Zibi founded RISE Mzansi in April 2023. The party will probably not get a significant share of the vote but Zibi will probably go to parliament.

Vuyiswa Ramokgopa — national chairperson and Gauteng premier candidate (No 2 on the national list)

If you read Vuyiswa Ramokgopa's biographical information on a website, the following words do the rounds: chairperson, chief executive, women, award, development and empowerment. Considering that she is only 38, one wonders whether this wonder woman ever sleeps.

On stage, she radiates optimism, energy and intelligence: “This country can no longer be held captive by the ruling party's toxic political culture and factional battles." She repeats like a refrain that the people who have driven the country into the abyss cannot be trusted to restore it: “We need new leaders! We are the leaders we have been waiting for!”

When it comes to Gauteng, she knows what she's talking about because she was born and raised in Hillbrow. She got a B.Com in politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Cape Town and also has qualifications from Oxford University and GIBS. She started her own business in 2009 and has owned and managed several others since.

Watch this woman!

Mandla Isaacs — head of policy (No 3 on the national list)

On the street, Mandla Isaacs, 41, is known as the guy who wrote the following line in the budget speech of our second most forgettable finance minister (after Des van Rooyen), Malusi Gigaba: “As urban poet Kendrick Lamar said, ‘We gon' be alright.'”

The hopeless Gigaba messed up this phrase, which is almost impossible to mess up. And we weren't all right.

Either way, Isaacs is an impressive fellow. He's a big guy with a soft yet authoritative voice. His father was Henry Isaacs, a prominent black consciousness activist at the University of the Western Cape. Isaacs junior was born in New York, where the family was in exile, and returned to South Africa in 1990.

He has quietly become a major force in policymaking in the private and public sectors. He was the main author of two national budgets (one interim) and has also written a new policy concept for immigration.

He is the kind of guy with enough potential to become a minister of trade and industry or even of finance.

Isaacs has a political science degree from Brown University in Rhode Island in the US and a master's degree in public administration, public policy and management from Harvard Kennedy School.

Louise van Rhyn (No 6 on the national list)

Dr Louise van Rhyn, 58, has long been known in the progressive business world as the person behind the successful non-profit organisation Partners for Possibility, a leadership development programme that has brought together more than 3,800 business leaders and school principals in pairs to work on ways to improve education.

The surprising element of this programme is that it does not amount to the simple, patronising transfer of skills from the business world to schools. Several business leaders testified that they learnt more about leadership from spending time at township schools with almost no resources than in expensive leadership courses at business schools or during their MBA studies.

Van Rhyn appeared on the wider radar when she made herself available last year as a progressive candidate to represent the University of Stellenbosch convocation in the council. It was part of a turbulent period at the convocation, including conflict between conservative candidates, among them Jan Heunis, and a group of progressives.

Van Rhyn has a PhD in complex social change from the business school of the University of Hertfordshire.          


Mpho Madisha — spokesperson for energy and mineral resources (No 22 on the national list)

If Herman Mashaba says ActionSA wants to bring in experts rather than politicians to address problems in South Africa, then the qualifications of the top candidates on his party's national list, aka Team Fix South Africa, certainly testify to that. But one wonders if it is wise to push forward candidates with no street skills politically.

Someone like ActionSA's 46-year-old energy expert, Mpho Madisha, for example, has no political track record but a curriculum vitae as long as a Zuma cavalcade, with experience in engineering, business development and consulting in the state bureaucracy.

He was a lecturer at Tukkies' engineering department for almost a decade, he did research in the Netherlands for KEMA-ECN, an energy company, he did business development for Whoosh, South Africa's first online payment facilitator wholly owned by black entrepreneurs, and he was on the ministerial committee of the departments of higher education and of science and innovation. There, he led a comprehensive review of the higher education, science, technology and innovation landscape.

It's a mouthful. Whether he has the charisma to whip up a crowd of potential voters in a strong southeaster on a temporary stage with a rotten sound system, we shall soon know.

Dr Kgosi Letlape — spokesperson for healthcare (No 3 on the national list)

ActionSA's health expert, Kgosi Letlape, 65, is a prominent and flamboyant physician with strong opinions. He was the first black ophthalmologist in South Africa to do his specialisation at the University of Edinburgh in the Eighties because he believed that as a black doctor he would not get the opportunity in South Africa.

If there is any doubt about his political acumen, one can only look at his leadership positions in the medical community. He was the president of the South African Health Professions Council, the founder of the African Medical Association, the chairperson of the South African Medical Association and the president of the World Medical Association. He could not have achieved more as a representative of doctors.

In what was seen as a blow to the ANC, Letlape severed his decades-long association with the party in March, when he suspended his membership. He confirmed that he is concerned about the inevitable corruption that awaits with National Health Insurance.

Build One South Africa

Ayanda Allie-Payne — communications director (No 3 on the national list)

BOSA leader Mmusi Maimane must have done a few fist pumps in his kitchen when Ayanda Allie joined his party in January. She is the epitome of a new generation of black young people who are educated, deeply intelligent, passionate about South Africa and skilled.

Shortly afterwards, in an impromptu interview with an eNCA reporter, she had the nation talking with a tirade about President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation address: “… yet the president has the sheer audacity, the gall, the LIVER, to speak about things like state capture as if they were committed by aliens from outer space! Mr President, you were the deputy president during state capture, it was you who enabled state capture …"

She kept talking like this for two minutes more, almost without taking a breath.

Her achievements are incredible for a 37-year-old. In Soweto, where she grew up, she founded the Bukho Bami Youth Centre in Dobsonville eight years ago. It is a care facility and after-school centre for senior high school students, with a variety of support programmes. She was the transport minister's spokesperson, she was an SABC reporter, a presenter at Radio 702 and eNCA. She even released an album as a singer — We the People — and a book, How to Save a Life: Reflections of a Change Agent.

And she's just getting started.

Nobuntu Hlazo-Webster — deputy leader (No 2 on the national list)

For the co-founder and leader of one of the fresh and energetic new political movements, Nobuntu Hlazo-Webster, 42, has a low profile, online and in real life. Perhaps it betrays her nature as a hard worker behind the scenes.

She has a strong feminist and activist background and has made a foray into the business world. She is the founder of the South African Women's Commission, a women's empowerment organisation, she was an employee and director of several television organisations, and she chaired the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa.

She grew up in Lamontville and Inanda in Durban and has a BA from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and several postgraduate diplomas from institutions such as the GIBS Business School and the University of Stockholm.

MK Party

Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla (No 18 on the national list)

Less than a week before the election, the list of parliamentary candidates for the MK Party of former president Jacob Zuma (who is no longer a candidate) is still unclear. On the Electoral Commission of South Africa website, Zuma still appears first on the national list.

Zuma's daughter and biggest supporter, Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, 42, is  still 18th on the party's national list, but in interviews and on X, where she maintains a restless presence, she speaks flatly of herself as the second most important representative of the party. In an interview with The Shady Podcast she says: “You can call me Madam President. I am the neck, my father is the head.” It is widely speculated that Zuma himself anointed her as his successor in the party.

Political analysts are divided about her political talent. Former journalist, government spokesperson and businessman Makhosini Mgitywa reckons in the Financial Mail that she is a natural politician: “She can argue a point well and her relative youth means that she speaks to a young audience."

However, Belinda Johnson, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has  reservations: “While her surname works in her favour, she has other obstacles that may make it difficult for her to resonate with MK supporters. For example, she is apparently not fluent in Zulu. I understand they had to hire a translator for her on at least one occasion. For a party whose core base is Zulu speakers, it doesn't look good.”

Aside from her social media skills, her academic qualifications are vague at best. According to an obscure website, aalistaccessdaily on the cloud server DigitalOcean, she is claimed to have a “business, management, marketing and related support services certificate from the prestigious Gordon Institute of Business Science".


Zackie Achmat (Western Cape regional election)


Cape activist Zackie Achmat, 62, became internationally known in the late Nineties when, as founder of the Treatment Action Campaign, he stood squarely in the way of former president Thabo Mbeki's flirtation with Aids dissidents.

He has since founded and managed a variety of civil society organisations, such as Equal Education, the Social Justice Coalition, Ndicuna Ukwazi, Reclaim the City and #UniteBehind.

He says if he is elected to parliament, he has four objectives: restore Prasa and Sassa, address the energy problem and improve primary health care and mental health services. He says he stands for “the people" and represents the working class.

Achmat has an honours degree in English literature from the University of the Western Cape.


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