DA leadership candidate Mbali Ntuli believes the party’s current leaders are panicked and too focused on stabilising the organisation rather than pushing for broad growth. Ntuli made the comments while officially launching her campaign for DA leader in Johannesburg on Friday after writing to party members during the week.
“I think that our current leadership is in a panicked state. I think that what they want to do is stabilise and maintain the status quo. I think that is the wrong approach to where the DA needs to be going because that means we’re going to stagnate and we’re not going to move forward,” said the 31-year-old Ntuli.
The DA will host a policy conference in April before it holds its elective congress in May 2020. Ntuli is running against interim DA leader John Steenhuisen, who will launch his campaign on Saturday in Cape Town, and the party’s Gauteng leader John Moodey.
Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela has been reported as a possible contender but is yet to announce whether he is running.
“I think this election is going to determine whether we want the DA to stabilise and sort of stay where it is or if we want to inspire people to come back to the DA,” Ntuli said.
Different groups within the DA have been at odds since the party recorded a decline in the 2019 general elections, leading to high-profile resignations, including that of former leader Mmusi Maimane. Former leader Helen Zille was elected federal council chairperson while Steenhuisen was elected interim leader.
“I am at ease in any community in South Africa and feel fundamentally that, for the DA to grow and move forward and win elections, it needs a leader who is able to bring people together from different backgrounds to build a South Africa that works,” said Ntuli.
The DA has long fought against criticism that it is a party for minorities and, if elected, Ntuli would be the DA’s second black leader after Maimane’s 2015 election and re-election in 2018.
Analysts have calculated that the DA lost a considerable number of votes to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) in the 2019 general elections and has continued to decline in a number of by-elections across the country.
“I don’t think that the DA itself has the wrong trajectory. I think that the leadership, the current leadership, has the wrong trajectory and I say that because a lot of the strategy seems to be focused on stabilising when this is not the opportunity to be scared to go and really get votes,” said Ntuli.
Ntuli, who was the first leader of DA Youth and has served in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature, was the party’s campaign director in KZN in 2019. She said it was the only province where the DA recorded a higher percentage of the vote.
She said her priorities would be bringing back fairness to the DA, providing policy clarity, restoring confidence in the party and realigning South African politics.
“If our members believe the organisation is fair, and everyone has a fair stake in it, we will find common ground. So too in South Africa. But we must internalise this as a party first. We must build a party where every member matters – where some are not more equal than others, or those who shout the loudest get the biggest say,” she said in her prepared speech.
Asked when the DA became unfair, Ntuli said the party started using disciplinary processes to silence those who speak out. In 2017, she criticised inconsistencies in the party’s disciplinary processes after she faced charges for reportedly liking a Facebook post calling Zille, under fire for comments on colonialism, a racist.
The DA has long struggled to take definitive positions on decisive issues, particularly related policies on the historical redress of racial disparities. Ntuli would not comment on whether such policies should be linked to race or other factors and said members should decide at the party’s policy conference.
Steenhuisen and Zille have both been critical of policies linked to race. A draft DA policy document released this week rejected using race and gender as a marker of disadvantage.
“I don’t think that it’s up to Helen or John or Mbali to tell the party what it believes,” said Ntuli.
Ntuli’s reference to realigning politics follows the party’s failure to maintain its coalitions in Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg, while it currently risks losing Tshwane.
“We need to be the core of a new majority with people and parties who share our values so we can become the next government and make South Africa work,” she said.
“We can only do this if we can save the DA. Only then can we save SA.” DM
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