The news had already been widely reported by the time she announced it, but that didn’t stop Democratic Alliance MP Lindiwe Mazibuko from basking in the limelight of what could possibly mark another significant change in the South African political landscape – a young black woman leading the official opposition in Parliament. Rejecting the notion that her appointment would be window dressing, the 31-year-old Mazibuko outlined some of the changes she would ring in. BY OSIAME MOLEFE.
“We believe that the DA national caucus in Parliament needs to be the hub of policy development in the party, and we also believe that Parliament needs to take its place as the primary place of political engagement and debate,” Mazibuko said at Tuesday’s press conference.
Contrasting with ANC NEC member Ngoako Ramatlhodi’s view that power has been emptied from the legislature and placed in the judiciary, civil society and Chapter Nine institutions, Mazibuko argued that it is debate and engagement which has been emptied from Parliament and placed instead in the ruling party’s structures. She added later, “When it comes to the ANC, Parliament is not taken seriously enough. The President doesn’t come into the house nearly as often as he should and committees are increasingly becoming rubber stamps for ANC policy that is decided outside of Parliament and even outside of the government.”
She was likely alluding to the recent handling of the Protection of State Information Bill, which the ANC national executive committee decided to pull at the last minute and the party’s Parliamentary caucus was made to sign-off on the decision.
“We can hoist Parliament back up as the place where South Africa debates its political issues from joblessness to even the so-called national question about race. These things are tending to increasingly unfold in courtrooms. Parliament needs to become the hub for this debate because it is the representative of the people,” Mazibuko said.
The party’s racial composition, especially within its leadership structures, has been its Achilles’ heel when it comes to attracting the black vote. Mazibuko said that the party’s leadership should represent South Africa’s diversity and insisted that white males still had a role to play.
But with a limited number of leadership positions available, it seems Mazibuko is talking herself into a mathematical impossibility and possibly risking isolating key areas of support. The reality, though, is if the party intends to rule, it needs to broaden its support base and if that means isolating traditional areas of support, Mazibuko and the think-tank behind her are prepared to risk that.
Athol Trollip, the incumbent and her competition for the position, welcomed Mazibuko’s challenge. Unlike the ruling party’s leadership contestations, this one seems to be public and unfolding in a collegial manner, for now. But by throwing her hat into the ring, Mazibuko has split the party into a younger faction that supports her and an older, more conservative faction that supports Trollip. The time between now and the mid-term caucus elections on 27 October will reveal whether the contest will remain as clean as it has begun.
The strongest and most valid criticism Mazibuko will face is that she is light on experience and too young to command the respect of opposition MPs who are wise to the ways of Parliament. On this she said, “I intend to use my youth as a strength. My age and experiences represent the vast majority of experiences in the country. The President and the governing party should be ready to face young South Africans.”
Her running mates – federal chairman Wilmot James and leader in the National Council of Provinces Watty Watson – sat flanking her at the press conference, but were mostly silent, giving Mazibuko the glory.
The trio said that they will be engaging with caucus members over the coming weeks before presenting a detailed plan that will change how the DA functions in Parliament, and how Parliament positions itself in South African politics.
“I don’t have my eye on Helen’s job at the moment. And I believe that Helen is the right leader to take us to the next election,” Mazibuko said. But with Zille herself having tipped Mazibuko as the party’s future leader, this seems the next natural evolution if she lands this job. DM
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