Long time foes became friends, and even each others' praise singers, as former Eastern Cape premier Nosimo Balindlela joined the DA on Tuesday.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille and DA Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip, who is also an MP, introduced Balindlela to the media at a press conference in Parliament.
Balindlela sat next to Trollip, the man who was a thorn in her side while she was still a premier. At the time, Trollip was the DA parliamentary leader in the Eastern Cape legislature.
Both Zille and Trollip sang Balindlela’s praises, saying that she had integrity and was a hard worker. “Her footprints were visible throughout the province, literally, as she was known for walking barefoot,” Trollip said.
Balindlela was elected Eastern Cape premier in April 2004 and was “recalled” by the ANC’s national executive committee in 2008, alongside then-Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool.
'An easy decision'
She later joined the Congress of the People (Cope), where she became a member of Parliament in 2009. With her move to the DA, Balindlela resigns from Cope, and resigned her parliamentary seat on Tuesday morning.
“It was not a difficult decision to take. It was an easy decision,” she told journalists.
“All of us as politicians, we look for an exemplary figure that can really lead us. I’ve seen many [and] one of them is Helen [Zille].”
She said she was happy that the democratic right of people was being observed and appealed to the media that the message be sent “to many people who are very fearful to come out, who do not know whether they are taking the right step".
Balindlela said she had taken this step because she believes the DA is the future.
Turning to Trollip, who was sitting to her right, she said: “Athol, you’ve been a very good opposition member when I was premier. I always say, don’t fear people who criticise you because they are giving you a chance to correct and do better.
"I’ve always adored you for that,” she added.
Asked about Cope, Balindlela said the party was facing many challenges, which made it difficult for one to do the work of an MP.
“I have the highest regard for my president, Mosiuoa Lekota. He has worked and toiled very hard under very difficult circumstances. For me it was time to choose the future. I am thinking of the children who are getting into the desert at this time.
“I cannot say Cope is sinking, because we have a great leader in Lekota. But Cope is getting into a long protracted struggle. It’s trying its best but the time has come for us to come together and the future is with the DA,” she said.
She did not hold back about the ANC.
“I want to say, categorically, the ANC has failed in defending the constitution. It has also failed to alleviate poverty. The inequalities are so glaring and the aspect of non-racialism has definitely not been taken further on.”
A person of integrity
Trollip said they were expecting Balindlela to do a lot of hard work in the Eastern Cape and to continue working at grassroots levels in the area that she knew so well.
“Hopefully, she’ll assist us in bringing change to the Eastern Cape that so desperately needs it.”
Both Balindlela and Trollip are from the Eastern Cape.
Zille described Balindlela as a person of integrity. “In our interactions, it was clear to me that she is someone with the core values that will take this country forward – a respect for the constitution, a commitment to non-racialism, the need to redress the legacy of apartheid, and a desire to build a society based on opportunity for all.”
She said the development was another step toward the realignment of politics in South Africa. “Good people from across the spectrum are starting to converge around a vision and a plan for our country.”
In September, Zille called for the formation of a new political party to challenge the ruling ANC in the 2014 elections.
In a statement, the ANC described Balindlela as a "political liability".
“It is a known factor that Balindlela was the least effective premier in the Eastern Cape hence she was recalled. If there is anything that the DA has netted it is a political liability that will further alienate the party in the Eastern Cape,” said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu in the statement.
Cope's acting chief whip, Dennis Bloem, said the party wishes Balindlela well with her future.
In a statement, Cope said Balindlela was a respected member and leader of the party, who always showed commitment to the ideals for which Cope was established.
"As a party, committed to defending and deepening our constitutional democracy, Cope recognises and respects the right of Balindlela to exercise her freedom of association and therefore, albeit regrettably, accepts that she has chosen a different, but not opposite, path of continuing her political contribution to South Africa.
"We take this opportunity to thank her for her efforts towards building Cope and wish her well for the future, confident that she will continue to remain the valued daughter of South Africa we knew".