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Baby Tyawa reflects on her journey as a public servant with Bonnie Ramaila

In all her years as a public servant and in senior management leadership in public institutions, Baby Tyawa has no regrets. She has worked with outstanding and hardworking professional senior managers in the public sector, some of whom have now retired or assumed other professional roles outside the public sector. During this period, she learnt that the easiest conduct in the public sector is to adhere to the prescripts of the various policies and procedures underpinning governance operational guidelines.

Prior to joining Parliament, she was the CEO of the State Gambling Board. Before that, she was the Deputy Director-General of Corporate Services at Government Communications (GCIS).

“With all the ups and downs that came with the job, my tenure was a fulfilling personal development venture and I am proud that I had an opportunity to serve my country from my early days as a student leader in the Class of 1976, to the highest institution in a country we fought for. It was indeed a blessing to have been part of this democracy from beginning to my retirement year,” she revealed.

When asked of any regrets, she said: “The only regret is not spending enough time empowering women in the institution. Since I was in an acting role, I spent much of my time trying to steer the ship in the right direction.

“I believe that we will gain nothing if we continue talking about the empowerment of women, when nothing changes when a new boss lady comes on board, continue with business as usual and neglect to focus on gender issues. This would merely be a gender switch. Having women at the helm should bring about significant changes that are seen and felt by the subordinates and the constituencies around.”

Her sentiments magnify the notion that we have made leadership of women as something bigger than us, and the danger of this lies in thinking that it is about power and individual success. As someone once said: “We’ve turned it into a label instead of a way of life.”

We strive to become leaders by position description instead of leading through our actions. This is travesty to the gains of democracy. Tyawa continued: “I regret not focusing on this important aspect of our social-economic well-being as women, but let me spare the empowerment and gender issues for another time.”

Looking at the lives and times of Tyawa from the early days of 1976, one can’t help but notice her dedication and selflessness in serving this country. It took sacrifice, hard work, and focus to get to where she is. While many of her counterparts of the struggle did not live to see such opportunities, she is grateful that she lived to see the gains of the struggle. A lesson one can learn from Tyawa is that the onus is on the generation left to learn to stay the course and see things to the end. Quitting and switching halfway through one’s journey or when the going gets tough, will not do the country or ourselves any good.

Tyawa’s journey could be described as profoundly empowering. She has given the country and the African National Congress 45 years of her life.

Tyawa, who retired in May 2023, reflects back on her 10 years of service in the highest institution in the country. “As I retire, one can say that I have fought a good fight of the liberation movement, I kept my faith that one day we will be free, indeed we are, thus, it was a good race that I ran until the end of my service. It is now time to put away my stilettos, but continue sharing my experiences and imparting valuable knowledge and history to help the upcoming generation.

“I am going into coaching consultancy, since I am a psychologist by profession. This is something that I am passionate about and it will give me an opportunity to share my experiences and empower other women to stay focused as they navigate their journey in their careers.”

Tyawa was appointed Deputy Secretary of Parliament in 2012. Six months into her job, she was plunged into the deep end and was requested to act as the Secretary of Parliament due to administrative issues that transpired with the newly appointed Secretary then. She acted in the role until September 2022, when a new Secretary was appointed to lead the institution, to bring stability and continuity.

“It was not easy in the beginning to lead an institution that has a long history of being led by a male figure,” she said. Since the dawn of democracy in our country, Parliament has never had a woman as an administrative leader of the institution. It should be noted that the Secretary to Parliament performs administrative duties for all parliamentarians and ensures the smooth running of operations and services of the institution.

“Parliament is the watchdog of the government, thus it is important to lead by example and this is not an easy task when you inherit an institution that is highly politicised and unionised. I found the institution in a relatively stable administrative state and with extraordinary benefits for its employees. I am proud to say all the years and time I have been at the helm, we have been able to develop sustainable administration policies and introduced further support for the betterment of officials of Parliament. It is in this period that my team and I received seven, not one and not two, but seven clean audits from the Auditor-General.

“I was fortunate to have worked with women who gave me carte blanche and never really meddled with the day to day running of operations. In the same breath, one can say it was not easy moving from one Speaker of Parliament and Chairperson of the Council, to the next in the years I have been in the acting role, as each leader brought a different management and leadership style.”

Tyawa has gone through three Speakers of Assembly and three Chairpersons of the Council in her 10 years. “Reflecting upon this experience, it made me understand that my role in the position was to act in the interest of the institution, not for personal gain or glory,” she added.

As with everyone, the job came with trials and tribulations. Whilst most people tend to have a baptism of fire upon assumption of duties, Tyawa seems to have a contentious parting shot given the ‘fire saga’ issue that engulfed Parliament in February 2022. The issue was independently investigated and arrests were made. However, internal investigations were instituted in September 2022 and this required her to be put on ‘precautionary leave’ to allow the internal process to take place without any influence. She has not been found guilty of any impropriety of any kind since the internal investigation process got underway.

The curious thing about the issue is that, when the appointment of the new Secretary was announced in Parliament, many political party leaders sang her praises for holding the fort professionally and ethically amidst the challenges they have gone through.

The ‘fire saga’ casts a shadow over her tenure. More bizarre than the saga is the fact that she was put on precautionary leave. Tyawa had six months left until her retirement in May 2023. She officially expressed her wish in 2020 not to have her contract renewed as she was retiring.

When asked about this, she indicated that she may not dwell on this as it is in the hands of the Parliament Executive Authority and the Secretary to Parliament. “I am interested to walk away from my tenure with all the beautiful memories, the good lessons learnt, and the parliamentary knowledge acquired and dignity. Indeed, I look forward to reactivating my mental health skills, going back to using the education I acquired with the support of my movement, the African National Congress.”

Bonnie Ramaila is an international communication consultant.