DA MP Ian Ollis was first off the mark this week in declaring his candidacy to become Gauteng’s provin-cial DA leader. His tweet to this effect was trending on Twitter shortly afterwards.
Described as a “consummate communicator”, the one-time estate agent and preacher made no bones about having “developed the political muscle” to clinch Gauteng for the DA in the 2014 elections.
“It’s time for the DA in Gauteng to stand centre stage,” he said at Tuesday’s launch of a campaign which will focus on the youth, their career and educational needs, and anyone in search of a new political home.
He’s been here before – and lost the contest for Gauteng DA leader by four votes.
That was four years ago, when he represented Ward 90, covering some of the richest suburbs in the city. A Deloitte leaders’ assessment around that time which, according to the Mail & Guardian, had Ollis ticking all the boxes, meant the loss was no defeat.
In 2009 the openly gay politician took his seat on the DA benches in the National Assembly.
On his first day there, Ollis tells the Saturday Star, he drove into the MPs’ parking lot where there was still the sign “For Senators Only”. It was a Shakespearean moment for the politician born on the Ides of March (March 15).
But it seems he’s heeded his mother’s advice to “make sure you don’t get thrown out in the first week”, reported in the 2009 M&G’s “300 Young South Africans to Take out to Lunch”.
Ollis says he’ll stay at the national legislature even if he becomes DA Gauteng leader. It’s been done successfully before.
Over the past three years, Ollis says, he has missed only two weekends when he did not return to Joburg to work in his constituency of Sandton and Alexandra from Friday to Monday.
This has included hitting the pavements in Alexandra township during last year’s local government election, heading a campaign to assist domestic workers to access workmen’s compensation, speaking at seminars and conferences, and working with schools in disadvantaged communities.
While some have raised eyebrows over his candidature, there is also acknowledgement that Ollis is not shy to pound pavements or to meet and greet. It’s one of the skills put to good use in the party fundraising and other structures he’s served on for the past 14 years.
And lobbying for the 1 137 Gauteng DA votes looks set to be the DA’s second campaign-style challenge for leadership in some three months. Last year Ollis was among the first of the so-called young guns at Parliament to back Lindiwe Mazibuko, one of the youngest MPs, for the post of parliamentary leader.
It was Helen Suzman, who called him “Ollie”, who got his career in politics going. Suzman, he says, was inspiring: “I used to watch her beat up the state president and prime minister.”
The two met at party functions and chatted until one day he was asked: “Why don’t you come to tea?”.
Once she asked if he had a boyfriend and laughed when, in response, he asked if her grandson was available, according to a mambaonline.com interview in February 2009.
Suzman died three months before Ollis took up his seat on the opposition benches.
As labour spokesman in Parliament, he had his say in last year’s debate on the president’s state-of-the-nation address, two Youth Day debates and votes on laws, while raising issues such as the plight of the Aurora mine’s 5 000 unpaid workers.
It was the parliamentary youth debates that stayed with him – and the experience of one young woman who, unable to get work other than cleaning people’s houses, went to the US to pursue a career.
“It was a very important illustration of the challenges,” he says. “On both occasions I was able to raise issues young people face, which are not talked about. I gathered input from young people.”
Another issue not much talked about is how Ollis’s private member’s bill on making trade unions pay for damages caused during a strike has found its way into a legislative amendment brought by the Labour Department to Nedlac.
Meanwhile, Cosatu is in the Constitutional Court challenging two court rulings in favour of compensation following the 2006 security workers strike in Cape Town, when cars and shopfronts were damaged and hawkers’ goods destroyed.
On his website, Ollis describes himself as “a community-minded politician”.
According to LinkedIn, his skills are politics, strategic planning, employment law, public speaking, project management and feature writing.
It all seems like an open book, but he prefers not to go into reasons for leaving the Baptist church four years after having helped establish it in Sandton. The departure in 2000, co-incident with completing his MA in theology, came because of a desire to go into business, he says, adding that he set up an estate agency from scratch.
Ollis is no stranger to public leadership campaigning and the potentially contentious issues of race and gender as the DA looks to reposition itself in its drive to capture more votes.
He was the first to announce his intentions in a week in which the names of DA national spokesman and Joburg caucus leader Mmusi Maimane, seen as one of the party’s rising stars, and DA MPL John Moodey were also touted.
Ollis says contesting is just the way the DA’s internal democracy works. “They are not my enemies. They are running the race for Gauteng leadership. Watch this space!”