The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Jane Cowley was the guest speaker at a packed Kowie PROBUS club AGM at the River & Ski Boat Club on Tuesday, April 11. Her talk was titled The politics of politics in the 21st century.
In her early life, Cowley was a Biology and Maths educator at Qhayiya Combined School from 1993 until she left to take on the post of principal of Shaw Park Primary School in 1999. Eventually she resigned from teaching in 2011 and pursued a career in politics due to her strong belief in active citizenry. “We all have a role to play and it is our collective responsibility to not sit back and be indifferent but rather to get involved and make the little changes that you can,” Cowley encouraged PROBUS members.
Before she left teaching, she had already started her journey with the DA as a branch chair and simply got more and more excited and involved in the process. This saw her becoming a PR councillor in Ndlambe Local Municipality in 2014. Cowley is currently serving as an MPL in the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature as DA Shadow MEC for Health and her political constituency is Komani.
Cowley started her talk looking at the global trends in modern politics, which include the rise of nationalism and right wing politics, political ideologies and resources of East vs West and the energy crisis, which she deemed as the crisis of control when it comes to Eskom. “The constant Eskom crisis is not an energy crisis, it is who controls the energy and who owns the energy,” she said.
Cowley sighted corruption as being one of the main modern global issues facing politics. “Modern global issues are political issues,” she said. Other modern global issues she sighted were pollution, black consciousness, climate change, police brutality and homophobia. Cowley said all these issues can be resolved through political discourse. “These are issues that can be resolved through political discourse but sometimes what happens is leaders choose not to resolve them because it’s in their best interest not to resolve them,” said Cowley.
From an African perspective, Cowley touched on the cruelty attached to the high percentage of African dictatorships which she considered as bad governance that leads to no resources to support the community that is ruled with fear. She said this bad governance has created vulnerable communities which are rich in natural resources but have an untapped nature tourism market. “Africa has untapped nature tourism market. We could do so much more with our nature tourism, continentally and locally. Part of the problem and reason that its untapped is because there is this element of fear about Africa and the element of fear exists because of the bad governance in Africa and the poor infrastructure and so forth,” Cowley explained.
Adding to that, she noted Russia and China’s influence over the governance of mineral resources such as coal and mines in the continent as the second wave of colonization in Africa. “The continent is now once again in the clutches of other colonizers, those specifically being China and Russia and these are the two big players who want to get their hands on the resources [of Africa],” she said. Cowley said many mines in Central Africa, including some in South Africa are being controlled by the Chinese and Russians.
Cowley believes South Africa is still challenged by the lasting effects of apartheid, especially when it comes to the land issue and geopolitics. “How towns were structured; that one population was far out of town and then the other population was within the economic surge and this exists still to this day,” said Cowley. To address this, Cowley said the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) is trying to break down the geopolitical divides in areas. For instance, some industries are being moved closer to townships so people can access the economy more easily, Cowley explained.
From a South African perspective, Cowley believes there is a blurred line between the state and party politics in a multi-party democracy. “The ruling party is unable any longer to distinguish between what is the state, which represents all parties, and their political party. They see the state as being an extension of themselves and that creates enormous tension because they’re taking ownership of things that they may not take ownership of and they’re also trying to control institutions they shouldn’t be interfering with,” she criticized.
Furthermore, Cowley criticized the ruling party for having an influence in certain chapter nine institutions that are supposed to promote freedom and democracy. She sighted the office of the public protector and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as those chapter nine institutions that are supposed to be non-partism, but alleges that they’re largely influenced by the governing party. “Unfortunately, they are no longer non-partisan. We’ve proven it from one election to the next, even in by-elections in some areas,” she said. In her constituency in Komani, Cowleys alleges that the IEC is basically an extension of the ruling party.
During her informative talk, Cowley also broke down the different legislations in politics and cihted the caucus, oversight and public participation as the three important aspects of political responsibilities for members of parliament.
Cowley cited coalitions in South Africa as democracy that is growing. “Coalitions are a side of democracy that is maturing and we continue to have very successful coalitions,” she said.
Looking at what the future holds, Cowley said the country will see a rise in Public / Private partnerships. Moreover, Cowley said there are limitations on smaller parties and alleged that the ruling party wants to cut smaller parties out. “There is a move by the ruling party, or talk rather that they want to cut out the smaller parties. However, it is still in the talking stage,” she revealed.
In her concluding remarks, Cowley urged PROBUS members to make their vote count in the upcoming national elections.