‘Bickering and division’ a potential stumbling block for the DA’s youth
As the Democratic Alliance (DA) struggles to redefine itself in a post-Zuma era, the DA Youth attempt to rebuild and create a space for themselves in contemporary South African politics. However, growing populism and their own mother body might be the youth wing’s biggest hurdles.
The recently elected DA Youth Federal leader, Luyolo Mphithi, seeks to build an activist and community based organisation in his efforts to re-brand the image of the party’s youth.
“I want us to be an activist organisation on the ground. We want to stay away from campaigns in the media and be community based, to walk with young people,” said Mphithi.
And first on the agenda, according to Mphithi, is tackling youth unemployment. In 2017, it was reported that 30% of South Africa’s 10.3-million youths were unemployed. And the numbers keep rising.
Another challenge, said Mphithi, is to find a place in the party to engage the national body of the DA and to give voice to views they might not agree with internally.
“The interim (youth committee) operated on the mandate of those who appointed them instead of those who elected them,” admitted Mphithi.
He takes over the reins of the youth amid DA infighting and turmoil that could pose a challenge to the young democrats, especially coming so close to national elections next year.
Suzette Little’s resignation as the DA’s Chairperson of Caucus in the City of Cape Town, adds to a number of resignations this month alone. In her resignation she described the party as having “continuous motions, bickering and division”.
Nosimo Balindlela, former ANC Eastern Cape Premier under Thabo Mbeki, soon followed and returned to her former party in the wake of the new Ramaphosa administration. Shortly afterwards, Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, Veliswa Mvenya, tendered her resigned from the party, stating she is taking a break from politics after 18 years in the DA.
Phumzile van Damme may have been the first prominent figure to resign this year as the party’s spokesperson (but remaining in the DA) in February after citing lack of support from the leadership and her health as reasons.
In the City of Tshwane, Executive Mayor, Solly Msimang had to place his Chief of Staff, Marietha Aucamp on special leave, after it was discovered that she had lied about her qualifications. She subsequently resigned.
And in the City of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba had to fire MMC Rabelani Dagada after the forensic team uncovered a conflict of interest case where Dagada handed over a lucrative tender to one of his friends.
With these issues in mind, coupled with the handling of the Mayor Patricia de Lille affair, it suggests a compromised political machinery is tarnishing its much-bragged about ability to provide transparent and clean government.
De Lille’s sacking from the Cape Town’s mayorship came after allegations of attempted bribery, nepotism and maladministration. However, it was De Lille’s radio interview with Eusebius Mckaiser, in which she intimated that she would walk away from the mayorship after her name had been cleared that led to her immediate expulsion from the party. This statement, according to the DA, constituted a public declaration of an intention to resign, which constitutionally, revoked her membership from the party automatically. De Lille successfully challenged her removal in court, and for the moment, at least until a court review on 25 May, she is still wearing the mayoral chain.
It is within this messy context that the DA youth wing finds itself and must carve out a voice.
The young democrats have struggled since the resignation of Mbali Ntuli after her public dispute with former DA leader, Helen Zille. The tumultuous relationship went sideways when, in 2014, Zille called Ntuli a “princess” and a “prima donna” after the youth leader criticised Zille’s decision to march to Luthuli House as “strategically unsound”.
Soon after, Ntuli resigned as youth leader and was appointed to the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature to grow DA support in the area, which she later left to become provincial head of campaign strategy. And in 2017, Ntuli faced disciplinary charges after liking a Facebook post that called the Western Cape premier, Zille, a racist – these were later withdrawn.
“What essentially happened is that the structure established in 2012 by Ntuli broke down when the people who were elected with her also resigned,” said Mphithi.
A National Working Committee was established, led by Yusuf Cassim, to work in the interim till the next congress. Four years later, the DA Youth congress was finally convened to elect a committee, where Mphithi was elected as the leader.
The political battles within the party on the eve of the 2019 campaign trail have been described as “a party that scores its own goals”. What is certain is that the DA has been having a challenging time in the Ramaphosa era.
Furthermore, the constant comparison that people make of their policies with President’s Cyril Ramaphosa’s New Deal makes it harder for the DA to distinguish itself and set itself apart from ANC policies.
The DA has an extensive record in putting young people at the forefront in leadership positions within the party. Hlomela Bucwa made history as the youngest member of Parliament when she was sworn in to the National Assembly last year, aged 24.
And rebuilding the youth wing to rival the likes of the EFF Youth command, according to Mphithi, will require robust debates and hard work to develop emotional intelligence and educate members on the realities of young people.
“If we agree that the future is the youth, then we must agree that young people must lead, we must agree that the youth need opportunities to lead, which means we must take conscious and intentional decisions to make sure young people occupy spaces of leadership.”
The #BreakingNewGround programme is a platform that Mphithi plans to roll out for young people to become part of the conversation in politics. This will be achieved by going into communities and taxi ranks, calling young people to discuss what is it like to be youth in this country.
“We are at risk of viewing 1994 as a failed project, but rather we should see it as a victory in a race that continues and we are glad to be in democracy but we cannot be complacent. We must be aware of the issues that young people still face today,” said Mphithi
As the Federal youth leader, Mphithi is also a member of the DA Federal Executive (Fedex) and Federal council. It is at these two bodies that Mphithi says he is able to voice out the mandate that the youth gives to him.
The DA leader Mmusi Maimane has been recently criticised by certain members at Fedex for his comments about tackling “white privilege and black poverty” in the media.
“I strongly support the leader, he has brought up an important issue. We must not forget that there are those who have benefitted from the legacy of the past, and there are those who are living with the poverty that come from that same past. It is not an issue we can deny,” said Mphithi.
The DA Youth congress was convened a day before the DA National congress, which raises questions about the autonomy of the youth structure to act outside the Federal Executive Committee.
When asked about the sacking of De Lille, Mphithi refused to comment, stating that there are people who have been assigned to speak to the media.
The DA is now under pressure to handle a new generation of youth amid growing frustrations over the status quo in politics. Beyond that, there are questions how the DA’s calm diplomatic and statesmanship politics will fare in a growing trend of populism.
“Populism is easy to come and mobilise around. I come from a student politics background and I know how it can be used and how it resonates with people. We must not let what is popular drive our agenda, it is dangerous and it leads you away from principles,” said Mphithi. DM