NEWLY-appointed Democratic Alliance (DA) National Spokesperson and Member of Parliament, Solly Malatsi continues to negotiate his way through the fierce world of politics and juggles it with his love for coaching football at his village where he grew up and running marathons.
Like many other 32 year olds, Malatsi didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth and had to fight tooth and nail to get where he is while growing up in the dusty village of Moduane in Ga-Dikgale, 30 km north east of Polokwane.
Comparable to DA leader Mmusi Maimane, Malatsi was born in Soweto, but doesn’t regard himself as a Sowetan. In an interview with African Times, the new DA Spin Doctor shares his hardships, how he got inspired by a mere high school teacher in his village near Turfloop and how he will bring about changes within the DA.
Malatsi is the middle child of a brother and a sister and says that he was seven when his doctor mother died and recalls of how life became more difficult for his two siblings and himself and extended family, although he doesn’t like talking about the subject of his mother’s death.
“When my mother died we went to stay with extended family along with my two siblings and we lived with four of my uncles and my two aunts. My grandfather was a retired miner and we were all living off his pension.
“I don’t like glorifying poverty! We were not well-off but better than most families around the village. I remember walking three km going to school with other kids not having shoes on their feet. I used to cry and share my lunch box because others did not have anything to eat. I’ve never experienced that in my life as long as my grandfather was still alive,” gushed Malatsi.
“So no matter how difficult your life is if you look around and you are surrounded by difficulty, it becomes normal, you don’t feel alone in the world,” he added.
With an Administration Degree from Turfloop University and an Honours Degree in Political Studies from Wits University, Malatsi describes how his English teacher, Abbey Mokwena, inspired him to read books he received from him and would have discussions and debates about them.
In the village school where not many of pupils could speak English or enjoyed talking in English, they had Mokoena, who became more of a mentor than a teacher for them.
“I remember reading Chunua Achebe’s Things fall apart. Steve Biko’s books and have debates in history and politics. We also got to travel a lot when we started the debate team because we went to debate with other schools around the province. He [Mokoena] showed us that there is a world beyond a village that you can start dreaming of,” said Malatsi.
That paved the way for Malatsi to be involved in politics but didn’t initially like the subject because of its ruthlessness. Instead he wanted to play football.
“I love football, although I realised that I only played football because it was the only sport that was available at the time and every village had a football pitch.
“I grew up in a family that was not political at all except my late uncle, I’m told he was a Congress of South African Students (COSAS) activist but passed on at a very young age. He was 16 when he passed but was very active in politics. I remember at his funeral, even when I was very young, there were people singing struggle songs already.”
Malatsi joined the DA in 2007 after voting for the Pan African Congress’ (PAC) student wing twice at Turfloop University’s Student Representative Council elections. Having studied politics as a subject he did an assignment in opposition parties in South Africa in terms of challenging the African National Congress’ dominance in SA politics and the rest is history.
“Back then the most recognisable party was the DA, I spent three months of my assignment researching all these opposition parties, especially the DA. It was clear to me through that research that the PAC was going to die sooner or later.
“I reached out to the DA in Limpopo because ideologically I was not far off from them. So I offered myself as a speech writer and when I went to Wits I got involved in DA’s activities in Gauteng.”
When asked about the perception that the DA is seen as a party representing the white minority, Malatsi said that the perception was far from reality now as eight of the nine Provincial leaders of the DA were black and the National Leader was black.
He prefers to name spin doctoring political communication because the title spin doctor has negative connotations.
“I enjoy articulating a message I believe in and being a spokesperson of the party offers me that opportunity to articulate what the party is to the rest of the country so we can convince them in the business of winning votes in government.
“Every leadership role grows an individual to the next chapter and this appointment is my chapter now. What this chapter leads to remains to be seen,” Malatsi said.
Besides Malatsi’s busy schedule which includes fielding questions from journalists all over the world, he is a football coach for his village soccer team and recently ran the comrade marathon.
“Running the comrades must have been the hardest and toughest thing I’ve ever done for the body and I still made it to the end,” Malatsi thought.