Helen Sauls-August ready for the Bhisho hot seat
‘I’ll take it in my stride,’ says newly elected legislature speaker who wants respectful relationships
She sits in the engine room of the ANC in the Eastern Cape where positions are usually discussed and decided upon, but when her colleagues decided to put her name forward as their preferred speaker of the legislature, Helen Sauls-August was taken aback.
“I was surprised when I was told that this is what the deployment committee of the ANC wants.
“But I’ll take it in my stride. There is a huge difference between the executive and the legislature,” Sauls-August said.
On Wednesday, Sauls-August was elected unopposed as speaker of the Bhisho legislature – a position that is quickly growing on her.
“Oh, I like this,” she said, minutes after taking her seat to chair the meeting.
Speaking about her decision to accept the nomination, Sauls-August – who is deputy secretary of the ANC in the province – said: “You don’t say no in the organisation. You just go and do what needs to be done”.
Her popularity in the party was obvious as all in the Raymond Mhlaba chamber broke into song as she was elected.
The public gallery clapped, while her comrades rushed to congratulate her.
But leadership positions are nothing new for Sauls-August as she has served as MEC for three portfolios over the past nine years.
Before the May 8 elections, she was the MEC for health.
Prior to that, she headed the human settlements department as well as the safety and liaison portfolio.
Of her duties ahead, SaulsAugust said she would ensure there was a harmonious relationship among all political parties and mutual respect.
“There must be timeous compliance to time frames in tabling of certain reports.
“We need to adhere to things such as money bills because they are very important.
“Quarterly reports must be tabled on time, and in terms of oversight the issue of questions, responses to the house, resolutions and implementation are also very important .
“We also need to do better in opening up the space for public participation, making sure that the sixth term of government will be in that space to try to eliminate issues of unanswered questions from the public,” she said.
Speaking on the disruptions leading up to the elections and officials from the Independent Electoral Commission being barred from conducting special votes in areas such as King William’s Town, Sauls-August attributed this to people’s issues and petitions not being addressed.
“Leading up to the election there was an outpouring of disruption over people’s issues not being addressed as well as not attending to the complaints of communities,” she said.
Sauls-August, from Uitenhage, started her journey as a public representative in 1996 when she was a councillor for the then Uitenhage municipality.
With the formation of the Nelson Mandela Bay council, she became a councillor of the metro from 2000 to 2010, having served as a mayoral committee member of safety and security as well as a speaker of council.
Sauls-August said she would like to see the provincial government work more closely with municipalities.
This is to avoid a situation where the provincial government is forced to step in only when municipalities are in complete disarray.
“The legislature cannot stand back and just say local government go there. It needs to become more robust in that space and make sure we give feedback if we can’t do things in the timeframe given to us by communities because that results in flare-ups.”
Sauls-August said with only two years until the municipal elections, the ANC could not afford not to respond to some of the burning issues.
“I think we need to respond to some of these critical issues and respond to petitions because those issues are critical,” she said. Sauls-August served in different structures of the ANC before being deployed to the provincial government.
She also served in the regional structure of the ANC Women’s League in the metro.