Modern politics is often an exercise in disenchantment. Never mind the politics of austerity; politics in general can be rather austere. In 2014, politics amounts to the realisation that Barack Obama’s “yes, we can” is impossible in the face of American partisan bickering. It is the understanding that there will always be Nkandlas and arms deals, despite the needs of the desperately poor.
But sometimes the disenchantment dissipates, and there’s a glimmer of hope.
This past weekend the Democratic Alliance (DA) announced its candidates for the general election due to take place later this year. For me these lists represent the hope we long for in modern politics. It is a step towards a politics of imagination, where capable people with big dreams serve ordinary people like you and me.
As an aspirant public representative, I am inspired by the young men and women on the list. They have succeeded despite the emotional toll politics takes on its participants, and they continue to fight for change. I want to write about three of these young people who have inspired me on my own political journey.
Zak has been a constant fixture in my life. He went from being someone I engaged with online, to a person I confided in on a regular basis. And since his trek to the Western Cape, where he serves as the spokesperson for premier Helen Zille, I have grown used to hearing his measured voice on the nightly news. Over the years, as both of us grew into our new lives and career paths, Zak and I haven’t been in contact as much as we used to be. Zak now ranks fifth on the DA’s Western Cape National Assembly list.
Zak is a former LGBT activist, having worked for HiVOS as a programme officer and served as a former spokesperson for Joburg Pride. His ranking on the DA’s list represents how far South Africa has come as a country in respect of gay rights. Moreover, his placement on the list is a representation of hope and possibility for one of Africa’s most vulnerable groupings. He used to support youth in their personal journeys towards acceptance; he will no doubt continue to fight for equality in Parliament.
When Ayn Rand had confused me into accepting an extremely narrow narrative about political life, Marius was there to fight with me. As a former Cope spin-doctor and current director of communication for the DA in Gauteng, he is a progressive democrat. A fiery character fit into a wiry frame, Marius is always extremely principled in his fight for social justice. He hardly engages in ideological warfare with anyone any more, but he certainly helped shape my belief in a type of politics that can do more, and achieve greater ends.
Marius is number 17 on the Gauteng National Assembly list. He’s from my home province and he studied at my university. The University of Pretoria’s long history of turning out leaders on the right-wing has always troubled me but Marius’ stellar academic record at this same university speaks to the changing nature of our society.
Phumzile van Damme:
Just like Marius, Phumzile spent a significant period of her life in Pretoria. She attended high school at the same school I would drag my mother to when participating in public-speaking competitions. But it would only be years later that I’d end up engaging with Phumzile, as a fellow participant in the DA Young Leaders’ Programme. She ranks seventh on the Western Cape National Assembly list.
Admittedly, I haven’t spent nearly enough time with Phumzile. But I have watched her career closely. This humble and kind Rhodes graduate is a masterful operator in the business I engage in every day (political communications), having worked as a spokesperson in the Western Cape government and currently heading up the DA’s parliamentary communication and research operation.
The above candidates represent a break from the politics of disenchantment, and will hopefully join similarly capable young candidates from the DA and other parties in Parliament following the elections. These young candidates don’t represent business as usual in South African politics; they represent the South Africa so many aspire to live in.