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Lindiwe Mazibuko should thank the ANC

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

No really. She should. By refusing to take her seriously, they’re giving her much more room to play with than they should allow her. Thanks to the hubris that comes with being a vastly popular ruling party, the ANC is going to ignore her. But can Mazibuko exploit that?

It was Sun Tzu who wrote the often-quoted aphorism “Know your enemy” in his seminal work The Art of War. The quote in full states: “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

I don’t think that the African National Congress encourages its cadres to read The Art of War (one wonders what the point of all those trips to Beijing is, then), or if the party does, the lessons are lost.

It appears that the ANC is incapable of taking its opponents seriously. It is too big, too powerful and too, well, ANC, to have to plan or strategise against the Democratic Alliance or anyone else. It’s like the party believes that showing up is good enough as far as it is concerned.

The signs are everywhere – under the impression that it would always keep the Western Cape once it won it through some clever politicking that saw the disappearance of the New National Party, the ANC did nothing as the provincial wing of the party tore itself apart, leading the field wide open for the DA to swoop in.

The election strategy of the ANC in the last elections was also remarkable for its absence until the very last moment. Apparently blind-sided by the DA’s slick campaign, the party cobbled together a vague campaign that reeked of ill preparation (some say it was a bad idea to sideline Minister Razzmatazz Mbalula, the ANC campaigner-par-none).

None of this would have happened if the ANC took the DA seriously.

Last week saw the election of DA spokeswoman Lindiwe Mazibuko as the party’s parliamentary leader. The position is understood to be the second-most crucial within the party. The election of the young MP to the position should and did therefore occasion a few raised eyebrows. Many question how suitable Mazibuko is for the position.

I doubt Mazibuko’s election occupied the minds of too many at Luthuli House. They have their hands full at the moment with Julius Malema, the potential political ramifications of the Arms Deal inquiry, any mess caused by the sacking of Sicelo Shiceka and Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, and the preparations for the upcoming centenary celebrations and national elective conference next year.

But some ANC members took the attitude a bit further – an ANC MP wondered on Facebook whether Mazibuko’s election heralded a new era for the DA or whether she was nothing more than a “house nigger”. If you’re wondering, that term is extremely loaded and functions mainly to dismiss Mazibuko as a shill for white people. Dismissal, in other words.

Which is perfect for Mazibuko. She will work in a completely uncontested space, and she should be grateful for that. Some of the mistakes she makes would destroy her political career in closely-contested environments.

The DA’s (and Mazibuko’s) double message on the race issue would have seen her crucified in many other places. For a party that professes not to be focused on race but rather merit, they really are making much of her election as a sign of a changed DA. Mazibuko herself said to the Cape Town Press Club that blackness doesn’t matter much – this from a leader in a party repeatedly branded as white.

Mazibuko gets away with this (kind of) by stripping blackness of all its meaning, leaving it as nothing more than a matter of skin pigmentation. This view is troubling for adherers of black consciousness.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe the DA’s double stance as a change of view – they are finally acknowledging that blackness matters. As Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya wrote in City Press, “If [Mazibuko’s election] was meant to attract someone like me and the rest of the 80% of voters who don’t vote for the DA, it would have helped at the very least, to recognise that for the majority of South Africans their blackness is not just some arbitrary fact to be ticked off on the census counter’s sheet.”

The ANC is failing to exploit this glaring mistake. Instead of using this chance to reinforce its message as being the natural home of progressive South Africans (in our context, translating non-racialism to mean that we don’t recognise the political definition of race at all is conservatism), the ANC is ignoring Mazibuko completely, or is opting for crude insults.

What the DA parliamentary leader’s message on blackness will be going forward is anyone’s guess, but I imagine it has to become more nuanced, given that the way her new position was spun suggests that the party at least recognises the importance of a black leader. The ANC will have completely lost the chance to squeeze Mazibuko out.

This isn’t to suggest that we’re about to see a nationwide upset of the ANC’s power. The ruling party would have to fall a long way down for that to happen. But there has definitely been a change in mood, and it isn’t to the ANC’s advantage. They should kick themselves for allowing that to happen. And Mazibuko should thank them. DM


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