Not impressed with the political landscape? You know the saying – be the change you want to see in the world. But where to start? Lindiwe Mazibuko, former South African Member of Parliament and the first black woman in the country to be elected Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly has some suggestions.

Where to start?

  • Values aligned

Once you’ve identified a party whose ideologies align with yours, join it, says Mazibuko. By being a party member and getting involved you will be able to make your mark within it, and showcase your determination, which could lead to a nomination for provincial or national government.

  • Charity begins at home

Start by making an impact on a local level. How do you do that? Simple: find your party’s branch and get involved by attending meetings and participating in programmes. Become a more engaged citizen and party member.

  • Sign your party up!

According to the Electoral Commision (IEC), any party that wants to participate in an election must register with the body. By registering at national level, your party is allowed to contest elections of the National Assembly, provincial legislatures and all municipal councils. If you register only at municipal level for a particular municipality, your party will only be allowed to contest municipal elections for those particular municipal councils stated in your registration application.

Get elected

Apolitical Academy

‘So often I am asked: when are you going to run for president? But many people don’t understand or realise that in South Africa, we don’t have a direct electoral system,’ says Mazibuko. When SA citizens go to the ballot, they are voting for a party, not a personality. ‘Our system is not like the one in the USA; in South Africa, you have to form or join and lead a party,’ she says. Helping others to understand – and thrive in – our country’s electoral system is one of the what inspired her to launch Apolitical Academy.

‘Through a partnership with IMPACT Business, Apolitical Academy offers a year-long fellowship programme with seven meetings over seven weekends during the course of that year, where we bring fellows together to do personal leadership development work. Here they need to ask themselves the tough questions: Who am I? What do I have to offer? Who do I hope to serve? Am I in it for myself or have I identified a group of people I want to represent?

‘We want them to be in an environment where they contest ideas with each other, which is the real experience of a politician.’

‘We deal with the skills side of running for office – speech-writing, media management and all the hard skills you have to have if you decide to run. The systems piece looks into which country you live in; what the constitutional arrangements are; and what fees you have to pay to be a candidate.

‘With our first course being open to anyone in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region – and it’s important to note that each has different political systems – the transformational piece is about personal leadership development. Covering these opens up a lot of understanding and opportunities for candidates.

3 Women share how they became MPs here.

Get elected

‘The programme is fully funded, and the 25 fellows in each class need only cover some of their transport costs, and pay a registration fee as a form of commitment. The Southern African head office is in Joburg and covers the SADC region. We are non-partisan, but the aim is to populate the class with a variety of political ideologies. We are not invested in fellows’ ideology, we just want them to challenge each other, and talk to each other about their beliefs. We want them to be in an environment where they contest ideas with each other, which is the real experience of a politician.

‘We have a theory of change around gender and age. There is a dearth of women who have access to real power, policy-making and implementation, and a shortage of young leaders, and so the Academy is open to all who are keen. It’s a method of transitioning people from outside politics who don’t know how to get in from marginalised communities [disabled, LGBTIQ, rural people].

‘…you spend more time with people from other parties making decisions for the greater good, than you do in caucus with your own party.’

‘Most politicians are serving in committees in Parliament and in local government. A committee is made up of a boiled-down version of the whole of government, with 12 members: three from the ruling party, two from the official opposition, and one each from the other parties. That is the unit of operation you spend most time with. In fact, you spend more time with people from other parties making decisions for the greater good, than you do in caucus with your own party. But that is not the experience you are prepared for; they are prepared to grandstand, fight and disagree at all times.

‘ The aim is to give you a network, support, advice, tools, and the steps to take if you are not successful.

‘With our first course, we want to give an opportunity to those who want to run for election in South Africa in 2019, and in Zimbabwe. More so, we want to make politics more accessible to all by supporting the next generation of transformational public leaders.’

Read more good advice here.