“Many holes have been dug in English,” says Economic Freedom Fighters MP Makoti Sibongile Khawula cryptically.
“MaKhawula”, as she is as known in the gleaming corridors of Parliament, says people are tired of others arriving in their communities and making changes that affect them without explaining what they are doing.
So, she says she will speak the language of her constituency – Maphumulo, in the Ilembe district of KwaZulu-Natal – so people can understand what is being said about and for them. For her, it is important that people understood the details of matters that affect their lives.
When MaKhawula speaks, it is a long, drawn-out affair, as she speaks either Xhosa, or old-school Zulu – and an interpreter explains what she has said, in English.
She is on Parliament’s water and sanitation committee and very little is more pressing to the people of KwaZulu-Natal than the drought they are dealing with.
The walls of MaKhawula’s office in Parliament’s Marks Building are papered with enlarged photocopied photographs of some of the indignities people in her area have to live with.
The images are there to remind her and others why they are there, she says. One picture shows a wheelchair built with old wheels and the seat of a plastic garden chair. Another shows the tell-tale “wall cellulite” of severe plumbing problems at a clinic.
Traditional leadership important
A picture of a pile of dumped and forgotten pipes gets her blood boiling. They were meant to have been supplied with running water, but have been left to rust.
“People are crying. There is no water. They say they are going to put (out) tanks, but now they don’t put in the tanks.”
For her, it is not the environment that is making people thirsty, it is people who are forgetting to do the basics.
“The mountains that brought us water, they are still there,” she says, waving a hand at a picture of a lush valley, taken before the drought.
Basic infrastructure is being neglected. Water disappears through leaks, and promised projects do not materialise. Water tankers arrive in the middle of the night and if people do not get up to fetch some, there is nothing left by morning.
Poisons flow into rivers, people “go to the toilet” in rivers, she continues. Her record at committees shows a litany of complaints over basic issues, such as making sure emerging black sugar cane farmers get the same access to water as their white counterparts.
In the register of members’ interests for 2014, she declared the social grants she received for two foster children. These were not part of her 2015 declarations, but show she is familiar with the social welfare system.
Committee minutes show that she asks pointed questions about the needs of women living in rural communities.
She sees traditional leadership as playing an important part in greater community welfare. Although she knows people will scoff at her, she believes in reviving old rituals to keep young people in tune with the earth.
It is not so much about preserving cultural mores, but about reminding the youth about the importance of looking after rivers, fixing leaky pipes, and keeping dams clean.
‘Not easily deterred when in full cry’
Khawula recently startled committee members when she suggested that the Rain Queen be approached as part of drought relief efforts.
“Commissar Khawule”, as she is known in the EFF, entered Parliament last May, when the EFF won 6% of the votes in the election.
Wearing her puffy red beret, she was one of a group of EFF MPs who brought the House to a standstill on June 18. This was when it became clear that President Jacob Zuma was not going to discuss repaying part of the money spent on security upgrades to his private home in Nkandla. Some in the House seemed amused by her forthrightness.
When Khawula hits her stride during verbal exchanges with ANC members during sittings of the House, it is not easy to stop her.
As the Sowetan Live described the events in the National Assembly on June 18: “All efforts by Speaker Baleka Mbete to restore order failed as she was simply shouted down by Khawula‚ who is not easily deterred when she is in full cry.”