Lindiwe Mazibuko, the first black woman and the youngest MP to be elected leader of the Opposition in Parliament, told the Tribune she and her team, chief whip Watty Watson and caucus chairman Wilmot James, would work through the festive season parliamentary recess to “craft a plan for 2012”.
The party would appoint a new national spokesperson shortly. Mazibuko resigned from that position just after her election, in keeping with the party tradition that a person hold only one post.
“There will be no adjustments to the shadow cabinet before the end of the year,” she said, adding that MPs were in the midst of departmental annual reports season at Parliament, and that the president’s announcements of a commission of inquiry into the arms deal and action against the national police commissioner had raised a number of issues. The 2012 plan would be among the first steps Mazibuko takes to stamp her authority on the caucus which, with a 50-31 margin, overwhelmingly voted for her on Thursday.
Unusually for the DA, the contest was a highly public one as a number of MPs threw their hats into the ring for Mazibuko or her predecessor, Athol Trollip, amid tensions between those in support of a new public campaign-style approach and those wanting to keep the elections an internal affair.
Mazibuko said this contestation was part and parcel of the DA’s internal democracy. “I want colleagues to feel there’s no consequence for supporting me or not supporting me, no rewards or punishment,” she said. “They were exercising their democratic right.”
Describing herself as “a party leader who will lead, outline a vision and implement it”, rather than managing the minutiae of the party, Mazibuko said this would be part of building the DA in and outside Parliament. Part of that vision would no doubt be the review of party economic policies, which was already under way.
Recent statements by DA leader Helen Zille and Mazibuko have highlighted plans to boost the party’s electoral performance to gain at least two more provinces – with Gauteng and the Northern Cape touted as likely targets – in the 2014 election and then claim a national victory in 2019.
Analysts said her election symbolised the DA’s potential to change and attract diverse support, but was by no means a guarantee of that. “It only creates the potential … (But) it is a very important symbolism,” said political commentator Adam Habib, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg. There were three million young voters born after 1994, who occupied a very different political space from previous generations.
Mazibuko, rather than anti-apartheid activists, reflected many of their views and concerns, Habib said, as in today’s South Africa a number of factors, including identity, diversity and policy, determined how ballots were cast. “The challenge to the old elite is that they are out of touch with their own constituency of the youth, the unemployed, they are like dinosaurs (to the born-frees).”
The leadership race was often described as a battle for the heart and soul of the party, and the candidates were said to portray two different styles: Mazibuko, the campaigner, and Trollip keeping to the more traditional, understated way of doing business.
Mazibuko’s vision-setting approach also indicated changes to a post traditionally based on strong management and administrative skills. And this would mean the caucus and national leadership would be on the same page – making the DA more attractive to a broader range of South Africans.
Eleven years ago, then DA leader Tony Leon started the move towards broadening electoral appeal with a short-lived marriage to the then New National Party. Today party pundits point out that the DA has grown from 1.7 percent electoral support in 1999 to more than 16 percent 10 years later, and in the May local government poll, just below 23 percent.
Last weekend, Mazibuko, with Zille, addressed the party’s Mpumalanga congress, emphasising that the party was not just about winning more black voters, though that was “a necessary condition for our growth”, but a much broader appeal. But changes to the DA leadership would not necessarily achieve this. In the run-up to the local poll, when Mazibuko was featured on posters and campaigned across the country, an Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISSA) survey found township support hovered at about the 2.5 percent mark.
“Much of the DA’s success is attributable to it getting its voters to turn out. In much the same way that increased voter turnout has signalled an increase in support for the DA, it has also resulted in a loss of support for the ANC,” the study found, cautioning against directly linking ANC losses and DA gains.
Ebrahim Fakir, EISSA head of governance, said while Mazibuko had approached the campaign for leader with seriousness, her role would still be tested by, among others, micro-politics in the DA caucus and administrative matters. And it was important to deflect any undercurrent that she had been “anointed” to the position.
While Mazibuko has risen speedily through the DA ranks over the past five years, her track-record in Parliament has not been without hiccups. Her response to the green paper on rural development and land reform took a while to release. And Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti pointedly noted her absence in a committee meeting where he delivered a progress report – after she had repeatedly pushed for the minister to account.
These are situations which would give the ANC benches room to score political points. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has already called her a “coconut” and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema called her a “tea girl”.
But Mazibuko said she was up for that – even if critics have made much of her private school accent (she grew up in Swaziland and Umlazi), her liking for British sitcoms and tea, and lack of parliamentary experience. She said she had already gone face to face with President Jacob Zuma and ministers in several State of the Nation debates and during question time.
“I have absolutely no worries at all,” she said. “I’m very determined not to allow people to make me feel ashamed of where I came from. I am proud of where I come from.” – Sunday Independent