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When Dr Mpho Phalatse was rendering medical services to some of the poorest people in SA, she was touched by the abject poverty she came across and thought she would be able to make a real change if she joined politics.

After a friend convinced her, she became a DA councillor, was later an MMC under Herman Mashaba, then was elected as mayor of the City of Joburg.

However, politics later left her disillusioned and unable to help the most vulnerable people as she had intended and “it didn’t make sense to stay”.

“When I was MMC, I could point to a lot of things that I changed because I was focused on delivering the work. There wasn’t much interruption. We did a lot of programmes, extended hours of service in clinics, we rolled out substance abuse treatment centres, we rolled out mobile clinic services,” she said.

She added that during her time as MMC, they also opened a men’s clinic in Alex. However, as mayor she faced and survived motions of no confidence until she was finally ousted.

After her ousting, she remained a PR councillor and her salary drastically reduced.

“I started looking at going back to medical practice while remaining a councillor but council was so erratic.

The space had become so chaotic it didn’t make sense to stay.

“There was no regard for the rules of the council. I just thought that I was stuck in this rut…it felt like we were just making noise but had no real impact because nothing would be done about anything and we did not have real authority to do anything.

Phalatse realised she could still use her expertise as a doctor to serve communities directly as a health worker. That was when she left politics.

“At the end of the day it made sense to choose one – either to stay with the chaos or circus of council or moving fully into my profession and continue to serve and coming back to politics at an opportune time,” she said.

Just like Phalatse, Mbali Ntuli wanted to make a difference in people’s lives when she entered politics at the age of 19.

Ntuli, who was regarded as a prominent political figure in the DA, wanted to change the lives of the poor and vulnerable.

However, one meeting back in 2022 left her despondent and realising that not everyone was on the same page as her. She then resigned as a member of the party and as member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

She had joined politics after she felt that it was her calling to help people. Whatever she wanted to do, she wanted it to have some form of social impact.  She also enjoyed being on the ground in order to make a real difference.

Some of the things she wanted to change in SA include inequality, poverty and assisting young people who have dreams and aspirations and never get an opportunity to live their lives.

“I think that there is nothing worse in life than feeling like you have not fulfilled your potential.”

After becoming a mother, Ntuli ensured that in her organisation, they tackled the issue of childhood stunting and malnutrition.

“I had a lot of fulfilling moments in politics, simple things like even helping a mother to be able to place their child into school or getting mkhulu [elderly person] an ID for the first time,” she said.

However, her frustration at the lack of  professionalism in the political space played a major role in her leaving politics, Ntuli said.

“One of the reasons I decided to leave politics was at a particular meeting. We had a long meeting and at the end of the discussion there was meant to be a vote.

“When we were about to take the vote, around the table more than half of the political representatives were either asleep or not paying attention and only when they realise we were voting did they scramble around to find out what number of the agenda we were on, what was it that we were voting on.

“That left me so despondent that you can put so much work into it and so many people were not prepared to do the same.”

Ntuli felt she could make more of a social impact outside of the political space and is currently serving her community by running an organisation called the Groundwork Collective.

“This community initiative that enables patriotic South Africans to be able to actively take part in making sure that they are agents and they are able to have a say in what happens to their immediate community ,” she said.

For the ANC’s Adv Kwazi Mshengu, being recalled from the provincial cabinet by the party’s new leadership shortly after a provincial elective conference last year was the nudge he needed to resign from the legislature and from his position as MEC of Education in KwaZulu-Natal to pursue his law career as an advocate.

Mshengu, who was introduced into politics at a young age by his late uncle who was an ANC member, was raised in the farms.

“Whenever they came back home, he would then tell us about the harsh conditions that were faced by the people in general in SA but more in particularly in the Mooi River area, and that started igniting some kind of consciousness within me as well as other siblings,” he said.

Mshengu said while living in the farms, he questioned why their lives were different from the children of the farm owners.

“They literally had everything and we had nothing except food. Our parents and grandparents could not afford anything but the farm owners had everything. We attended a farm school and the children of farm owners went to a school that had everything.

“I remember when I was doing Grade 1, it was literally a building and in the morning the farm owner would use it to milk cows and when he was done it would be cleaned and they would put desks and start classes.

“After school, we packed the desks so that the farm owner could milk his cows. So, those are the things that ignited the level of consciousness within us and we started questioning why this was happening to black people.”

Mshengu said he joined the ANC to be part of those who worked tirelessly to change people’s lives.

However, the Master’s degree in law graduate said while he has left the politcal office and is now a private citizen, was “still much in the ANC”.

“I just moved out of government and the legislature. I am now a practicing advocate and that is how I am making my livelihood but otherwise I am still in politics,” he said.


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