Athol Trollip will be campaigning hard in the next month to cling on to his job as DA parliamentary leader as Lindiwe Mazibuko’s entry into the party’s mid-term race could present him with some tough competition. CARIEN DU PLESSIS previews the campaign, which is likely to spark yet another debate about black and white – and young and old – in the DA.
The DA’s spokeswoman and elections poster girl Lindiwe Mazibuko, 31, is expected to announce publicly on Tuesday that she would be challenging incumbent Athol Trollip, 47, for the position of DA parliamentary leader come the party’s mid-term caucus elections on 27 October.
Seeing that the DA is keen for its media office not to get involved in internal party politics, Mazibuko has called the press conference in a “neutral” venue just beneath Idasa’s offices in Spin Street in central Cape Town, around the corner from the entrance to Parliament.
Mazibuko, whose constituency is in KwaZulu-Natal, has roped DA federal chairman Wilmot James – another relative newcomer to the party, with a Mitchell’s Plain constituency – into her campaign as running mate for the position of DA caucus chair.
There was talk earlier that James was interested in running for the position of parliamentary leader as well, but if he came up against Mazibuko, it would have divided the anti-Trollip vote. He has thus decided to throw his weight behind her.
Although James, as a well-known academic, is well-respected, Mazibuko has a higher profile than him as a politician, especially after her face appeared on posters nationwide – with party leader Helen Zille and now Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille – before this year’s local government elections.
Mazibuko has indicated that she would nominate veteran politician Watty Watson, from Mpumalanga, for the position of party whip.
The whip isn’t elected by the caucus, but rather appointed by the parliamentary leader. Mazibuko and James would be keen to have someone like Watson on their team. He has had years of experience of working in a legislature, which would make up for the gaps that there might be in the experience of Mazibuko and James, both of whom have been in Parliament since 2009, and in the party for only a little bit longer.
Mazibuko has announced her intention to stand in a note to MPs on Sunday night, while Trollip made his announcement last week.
He would retain Ian Davidson as the party’s chief whip and Sej Motau, from Gauteng, would be running with him as caucus chairman.
The current caucus chair, James Masango, will be returning to the provincial legislature in Mpumalanga.
Insiders reckon that the race against Mazibuko and Trollip will be a close one – much closer than the race between Trollip and Ryan Coetzee, who is now working for Zille in the office of the Western Cape premier. (Trollip beat Coetzee by 13 votes.)
Altogether 83 people are eligible to vote in the party’s parliamentary mid-term elections: 77 DA MPs, five ID MPs and Zille, who is party leader.
The race between Mazibuko and Trollip is partly a struggle for an image change in the party. Some reckon that the election of Mazibuko into the high-profile position of parliamentary leader would help shake perceptions that the party is dominated by white people.
It would be the first time that the party has a black woman in that position, and someone that young.
If the parliamentary battle in any way resembled the scramble for the party’s Western Cape leadership between Lennit Max and Theuns Botha last year (Botha won), the fight could get dirty and even take a turn in the tabloids.
Judging from previous DA caucus challenges, though, this is unlikely to happen.
While Zille is unlikely to formally endorse Mazibuko (it wouldn’t be right for Zille to choose sides anyway), she has hinted in a tweet before the May local government elections that someone like Mazibuko could one day become party leader.
Trollip has support from the party’s conservative lobby, as well as among some of the liberals. Those in his favour argue that he’s had more experience within the DA as well as in legislatures (although Trollip arrived in Parliament at the same time as Mazibuko; previously he was the DA’s leader in the Eastern Cape legislature and has been in local government politics, while he is still the party’s provincial leader there).
But it’s not all about race. While Trollip’s supporters argue that he has a firm hand when it comes to management, his detractors reckon that he doesn’t have the requisite people skills to run the caucus, which also includes about 40 DA staffers.
If Trollip is ousted, he is likely to have to choose between becoming a backbencher again – with the accompanying loss in status and salary – or going back to the Eastern Cape legislature. Or he might opt to leave politics altogether and go back to farming (but if politics is in your blood, and if you’re still relatively young, this might be a difficult option to swallow).
Alternatively he could run for a position on the party’s national leadership, which is set to be elected in the middle of next year.
Nominations open on 6 October and close on 25 October.
Neither Mazibuko nor Trollip returned calls for comment on Monday. DM
Photograph courtesy of the Democratic Alliance
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