To many young people, politics is the last and most boring career path one could think about choosing. That’s not the case for Katlego Phala, a young lady hailing from a small rural area about 30 kilometers away from Polokwane called Mankweng. At only age 22, she has become the youngest ever Member of a provincial legislature (MPL) in the Limpopo province as a representative of the Democratic Alliance (DA). Last week, I got opportunity to catch up with the young MPL. We spoke about her political goals and ambitions and also got to know the funnier and weirder side of her.
Speaking to Katlego about her political career & aspirations was an exciting prospect considering that though most young people would rather go into engineering, law or media-related career paths, Katlego bucked the trend and chose the unique route of politics. She says growing up in a township that has very little service delivery and an increasing crime level inspired her to join politics and make a difference. “I want to create a space in my province and country that has (rapid) service delivery and is safe for all people,” she says. Katlego adds that she would like to see more youth engagement in politics because she firmly believes politics affects everyone, young and old. “It seems that the youth are not inspired to get involved in politics and make a difference.” She later stresses that her goal is to show the youth that despite popular notions to the contrary, politics is indeed critical for the future of young people and needs their contribution.
Many people in South Africa still associate the DA with apartheid because its a party dominated by white people. Katlego admits that she has been labelled as being a traitor for her decision to join the DA. “People have said horrible things to me, but I do not see myself through the insults. I see myself as a South African who is passionate about improving the lives of all South Africans. I am loyal to this country and I will always be loyal to this country,” she asserts.
After the elections, the IEC handed over a list of 830 representatives for Parliament and the provincial legislatures to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and the Secretary of Parliament. Most of the representatives sworn in were over the age of 30. One can only imagine that there are a number of challenges for such a young person in such an environment – like not being taken seriously. Katlego does not seem to be fazed by her age however and is of the view that youth should not count against anyone. “The quality of my work and my integrity is what defines me,” says Katlego.
For anyone in Katlego’s position, her job could be quite nerve wrecking and intimidating, but also quite exciting. Katlego, however, is not as overly excited as I would’ve expected her to be about it, instead, she is quite humbled, asserting that she recognises the importance of being a representative of the Limpopo legislature. “Being young doesn’t change my understanding of the importance of my role, but it humbles me to have been chosen to represent all people. I would like to focus on understanding the needs that people have and I will fight to improve their lives. Being young doesn’t really impact on this passion,” says Katlego.
Corruption and service delivery are just some of the reasons that young people feel disillusioned about politics and have no interest whatsoever in taking part in our country’s politics. Katlego reckons that we are where we are today because of politics and because of people who raised their voices politically against apartheid. “They died for us to have democracy and a right to vote. Our job is to make sure that democracy is not only in words but in action. We have to honor their fight”, says Katlego.
Phala is saddened by the fact that we had the 1976 youth who fought against poor education and now years later, after the dawn of democracy, we still have school text books not being delivered on time. “We have less funding at universities, kids falling and dying in pit toilets. We rank at 146 from among 148 countries in the quality of our education,” says the concerned Katlego.
Katlego’s political ambition is to see more youth engaging in politics. She firmly believes politics affect everyone in South Africa, both old and young. “It seems that the youth are not inspired to get involved in politics and make a difference. I want to show the youth that politics is for them as well” says Katlego.
Sensing that we had been quite serious for a while, I took things to the lighter side and asked her who she would save if Helen Zille and Lindiwe Mazibuko were both drowning and she could only save one. As I expected, she did not pick a side. “I would call for help. throw a life saver ring into the water for both of them to hold onto until help comes,” says Katlego.
From the funnier side to the personal, I asked her what sorts of things she likes and the sorts of places she hangs out at. “I am a loner and I am happy with my studies and politics. I enjoy spending time with my mother and my little sister – they are my rocks. I am dedicated to my job. I do have fun and enjoy my youth,” she says. Most young people in this day and age associate fun with clubbing and enjoying alcohol, but for Katlego drinking alcohol is not her idea of fun. “ It takes all kinds of things to make this beautiful country so wonderfully diverse,” she says.
On the weird & wonderful side, Something funny about Katlego that most people don’t know is that she loves her tea without milk and lots of sugar and she eats Tea-bags after enjoying her tea. I certainly hope that Katlego will go on to achieve bigger and better things in her political career. She is indeed an inspiration to me and many young people across South Africa.
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