Hailing from a family of leaders where everybody believes in love, peace and reconciliation, Tasneem Motara was almost destined for higher office.
Her background also allowed the relatively young politician to slot seamlessly into her portfolio as MEC for the department of infrastructure development and property management earlier this year.
The demanding department is no big deal for the humble politician, because working hard and under pressure, she says, is in her DNA.
Public service started at very young age for Motara, long before she was appointed as part of a group of former ANC Youth league members to serve in David Makhura’s cabinet after the May 2019 election.
She grew up in a mixed-raced family – her father being Indian and mother coloured – with many of her relatives being Muslim, and some Christian. Both her parents had always been community activists before they even joined politics officially to broaden their serving roles.
“We always believed in solving other people’s problems. When I was growing up, most people in my community would always come to my family when they had problems or needed help,” Motara said.
After completing her matric, a young Motara enrolled for a Psychology degree at the University of South Africa. Despite this, she, like her siblings, never practised as a psychologist.
“In my family, we all went to school, but we never really practised in our professional careers, we are all serving the community,” she said.
Their parents taught them to share with and have a helping heart for others. She laughs as she tells how they share everything as family including clothes and looking after one another’s children in her family.
“My family shares everything, nothing is ever all yours in that family, that’s the spirit I bring even here in the department. I believe that not one person has to benefit when we can share opportunities with many,” she said.
She was groomed into politics by leaders and veterans of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL).
“I grew up working with leaders of the ANC Women’s League like Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Mam’Adelaide Tambo – that’s where I learned the spirit of ubuntu and ethical leadership, they contributed a lot to my growth as a leader and as a woman,” she said.
Interestingly, she joined the ANC at the age of 20, before joining the ANC Youth League – not the other way around.
Her activism role impressed the ANC leaders who, four years later, entrusted her with the role of re-establishing the youth league in Benoni. In 2014, she was elected into the ANCYL Provincial Executive Committee before being deployed as a Member of Parliament.
As an ANC MP, Motara served, among other positions, as Gauteng chief whip in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) responsible for voting on behalf of the province and leading the Gauteng delegation.
“I also served in the finance and appropriations committee, the committee of Trade and Industry and other ANC responsibilities in the NCOP,” Motara said.
Fast-tracking to her current portfolio, the 37-year-old politician is not deterred by the fact that she is leading an obscure department because she likes to get her work done behind the scenes – where she often gets her hands dirty without anyone noticing.
Motara is determined to turn the department around and bring it to the forefront of service delivery and away from the shadows it was perceived to be in.
Its main function is building public infrastructure and managing government property and assets. Formerly the public works department, its central task is to build and refurbish public infrastructures such as schools, clinics, hospitals, libraries and early childhood development centres, and replace temporary infrastructure such as container-based classrooms and clinics among others.
Motara is passionate about her latest pet project – the flagship Kopanong Precinct project to refurbish all buildings owned by the provincial government in the Johannesburg central business district, including the Bank of Lisbon, which was razed by fatal fire in September 2018.
“We are currently implementing all major works in line with the assessment report to bring our buildings up to full compliance,” Motara said.
Among the projects that the department had undertaken over the last five years, are building multi-purpose sports facilities, new clinics focusing on the National Health Insurance, several public libraries, clinics and schools of specialisation – some of which had been officially opened.
Another of Motara’s tasks was to bring women to the forefront of work, after she realised that her department’s top echelons were male dominated – something she attributed to the historic nature of the infrastructure development sector in general where females were relegated to the back.
She formerly occupied the position of the ANC Gauteng provincial spokesperson, to which she was appointed after her election into the party’s PEC. She enjoyed the task which for a brief period divided her attention between the party and the government works.
Motara is not ashamed to admit that she could not have achieved her tasks here without those who grind away at the coal front daily.
“A support structure is very important; I encourage others to learn to trust other people with things in your life,” she said.
She wants to be an example that other women would like to emulate as an MEC and a leader. “I am used as a yardstick. I have a responsibility of proving to women that it can be done,” Morata said.
On weekends and holidays if she is not on official duty, she enjoys chilling with the family at home and enjoying her favourite food, Karikichri – curried sour milk.
And despite being in such a high-powered position, Motara remains humble, close to her family, and a daddy’s girl at heart, saying she still has the key to the big family house in Benoni – and when she has problems with her personal car, she still calls her dad to come help her out.