May 18, 2021

Who is the man behind the Speaker?

Stay calm and take your seat. That should be Parliament’s slogan for the days when Lechesa Tsenoli takes the chair in the National Assembly. He may not have the glamour or the wardrobe of the Speaker. But he has a way of adopting a bemused air when things get hectic, which tells you that he is taking it all seriously, but not too seriously.

When he takes up position in the top seat he is nothing but a fair and balanced chairperson.

 It’s understandable that opposition parties have said they want him to chair the all-important debate on the motion of no confidence in Zuma.

This is when you realise what a good idea it is to have a Deputy Speaker.

Tsenoli does more than stand in for the Speaker. His place is out of the limelight. He is probably the one working the lights, and making sure they stay on.

Face to face he talks less about what this Parliament has done for the people of South Africa and much more about what still needs to be done.

He can be slightly verbose, a bit ponderous perhaps. But it’s worth the wait, because when he speaks it becomes clear that a lot of thought has gone into what he has to say. Call him one of the old school. He speaks the language of the ANC that used to be. Those old enough to remember associate him with the Mass Democratic Movement and the United Democratic Front.

A lot of Parliament’s top leadership came from there, but not all still remind you of those days. He has been Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Affairs and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. But despite the suit, the fancy office, there is something grassrootsy about him.

You come away from an interview with him aware that here is a man who thinks deeply, and cares even more for the people he serves, especially the young and the vulnerable.

His strongest words are reserved for an appeal to end violence against women and children, which he calls “one of the crudest manifestations” of the problems our society faces. He drives Parliament’s He for She campaign, a United Nations initiative to mobilise boys and men in the fight against gender-based violence.

‘No violence. Not in my family. Not in my neighbourhood. Not in my community,’ he says

But he has an interesting take on this scourge. He attributes it to “the past traumatisation that occurred in our society. Open state violence inevitably got into families and individuals as a method for resolving issues.”

He is concerned that despite the public reconciliation efforts of the past, South Africa has still not yet found a way of resolving conflict, even within our communities. “We have not produced infrastructure in our society to deal with healing the past,” he warned.

Tsenoli wants to see an end to violence in the home, at the workplace, on farms, in the streets, but he cautions that healing needs state intervention. South Africa needs to first deal with the violence that people suffered in the past at the hands of the apartheid state and employers.

He turns to the next generation to provide solutions, appealing to them to “create social interventions in your neighbourhoods that will make a big difference to the quality of life of those who come after you and those who have come before you”.

“Young people see the problems in their neighbourhoods,” he said, and that means they are well placed to identify domestic violence when it is placing people at risk.

When it comes to crime and violence, young people must not be the perpetrators, Tsenoli said. They must be the ones to “break the walls of silence that often hides criminality.”

He expects them to speak out. “Protest is good,” he said. “It opens our eyes to what needs to happen [and] must lead to practical solutions.”

But he urged young citizens to reject anything that “smells of the criminality of violence”. He repeats a phrase he wants them to learn. “Not in my family. Not in my neighbourhood. Not in my community.”

Tsenoli has no time for what he calls the “the eroding influence of greed, of acquisitiveness and individualism that kills the sense of community that we [in the ANC] have espoused as an approach to dealing with problems.

“That [sense of community] comes from deep African values, from a non-racial system that looks at people as human beings irrespective of where they come from and their backgrounds.

“Those values are absolutely crucial,” he said, returning again and again to the three major challenges facing South Africa today: poverty, inequality and unemployment.

“These will only be effectively dealt with if all people, irrespective of their race, colour, creed or gender, get involved in solving the problems and creating solutions.”

For example, Mandela Day. To Tsenoli it is more than a single day on the calendar. “It is a valuable time to be humane and that is one of the most important things we expect of each South African, every year and every month and every day of our lives.”

Anniversaries like these are important times to the Deputy Speaker. This year marks 20 years since the Constitution was finally implemented, “after a long struggle that ended in negotiations and, based on the best in us, resulted in compromise that drove us from the morass of the past into the future.”

Now, 20 years on we celebrate that achievement, but we also revisit the key values of the Constitution, Tsenoli said.

It is a time to “reflect on whether there are challenges that remain undealt with”. To him while the Constitution continues to “shield us when things go wrong, we still have poverty, inequality and unemployment that are a bad reflection on the past 20 years.”

It is up to public representatives, he said, to educate the public about the Constitution “so that others who come after us see the importance of carrying on that culture and jealously guard its values”.



Last modified on Wednesday, 17 January 2018 14:33

About Us

Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

Latest Tweets

Who will guard the guards?
Before there can be convictions, charges have to be laid
Follow Notes from the House on Twitter