We were a motley crew of activists gathered outside the main gates of Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday morning. About 30 of us, all wearing our various T-shirts with messaging, were holding up a banner and posters with a clear message for the soon-to-be-sworn-in Members of Parliament.
The messaging was not confrontational, in fact, what was striking, was that unlike previous civil society gatherings outside these gates, the messages were easy for our new MPs to throw their weight behind.
Put people first, not party interests.
We want a corruption-free Cabinet.
No to captured MPs.
Our learners deserve ethical leaders.
Corruption is fatal to health care.
The memo handed over contained a little more detail.
Not complicated messages to get behind, or in the words of our newly minted President:
“The people have spoken. We have a clear mandate. Let’s get to work.” Right?
In the two hours the group stood outside the gates, fancy car after fancy car, bus after bus and a few blue light brigades passed the group.
Was this not an opportunity to truly get closer to the people who these honourable members represent? An opportunity to engage first-hand with the very people who have spoken via the hard-fought right for everyone to vote?
Having attended many protests, all peaceful, outside Parliament’s gates it has always been striking how huge the divide is between us the people and us the MPs.
Us the people are mostly kept at arms’ length, heavily armed policemen and women aggressively guarding all entries while us the MPs operate safely ensconced in their Parliamentary bubble.
Us the people are not us the enemy… we are us the people who have entrusted us the MPs with our futures. We are their investors, we want them to succeed. They would be well advised to consider an end to hiding behind high fences, heavily guarded gates and to take a step forward, to break down the barriers that had been put in place by a past government that was scared of us the people.
It is time for those in their tinted cars to roll down the windows and engage us the people. To hear our inputs, to hear our messages and to join us on the side of right.
It is time for those in blue light brigades to park the convoy and read the posters.
One MP did slow down. His huge vehicle was noticeable. He rolled down the window and shook the hand of one of the protestors he clearly knew, but quickly slid through the gates and into the bubble.
Honourable member Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, your number plate identified you, so sorry for picking on you. Imagine the message you would have sent if you had parked your car for a moment, stepped on to the pavement and read the posters, engaged activists for five minutes or even less!
It may be unfair to zoom in on Kwankwa, but his life story possibly represents that of many other MPs who were sworn in yesterday.
Kwankwa shared his life story with News24 in 2016. It is a story of overcoming massive hurdles and the triumph of the human spirit.
Kwankwa shared his tale of a young child growing up in the Eastern Cape where he said he and his family would regularly go without food.
Years later Kwankwa moved to Cape Town to make a better life for himself and had to join the thousands of homeless people living on the city’s streets. His first 10 days in the Mother City were spent sleeping in a rubbish tip.
Kwankwa told of the pain he felt at missing his father’s funeral in 1999 because he was so poor he couldn’t make it to the Eastern Cape for the burial.
“A homeless Kwankwa soon found work as a cleaner and security guard. It was during this period that he started his studies in economics. He then spent some years working in the banking industry, before giving up the corporate world to become a politician in 2009.
“Anyone can overcome hardships,” he told the journalist.
Yes, Honourable Kwankwa, anyone can overcome hardships, but much of this now depends on you and your fellow MPs. Imagine how powerful it would have been for you if while you were homeless and walking the streets of Cape Town, an MP reached out to you and listened to your story and your ideas on how they could use their power to make things better? To make sure fewer and fewer children need to go to bed hungry.
Honourable Members of Parliament, Us the People come in peace. We come with some reasonable asks and suggestions. Asks and suggestions that could see no more children drowning in pit toilets, no more desperately ill people waiting in vain for ambulances and no more young people with all the potential in the world aimlessly wandering around the streets of our towns and cities, hopeless and alone and no more poor people dying on our trains.
Honourable Members of Parliament, step outside of your bubble, walk through the gates and come and hear us, come and engage us on the people’s side of the street. We are all in this together. DM
"Each man believes on his experience" ~ Empedocles