DA sources say the former parliamentary leader's decision to leave her position has saved the opposition party from a damaging leadership battle.
Lindiwe Mazibuko’s resignation from the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) parliamentary list was a “blessing in disguise”, and has saved the party from a bruising battle for the position of a parliamentary leader, says a DA official with close ties to the party leadership.
It was widely expected that Mazibuko, the DA’s parliamentary leader since 2011, would be challenged for this position by Mmusi Maimane, the party’s national spokesperson who has become DA leader Helen Zille’s new favourite.
Mazibuko pulled out from a list of DA candidates this weekend and will take a one-year sabbatical leave, during which she would further her studies at the prestigious Harvard University in the US.
“It was going to be a nasty war and cause deep divisions in the party,” said a DA staff member with intimate knowledge of developments.
Four DA sources spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition on anonymity for fear of reprisal.
A DA MP said Mazibuko had been unhappy for some time since she differed with party leader Helen Zille on the party’s position on the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, and that she was “emotionally drained”.
Mazibuko openly differed with Zille on the policy, and stated this in an email she forwarded to several DA strategists.
The MP said the DA caucus’s support of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, under Mazibuko’s watch, was used “to say there is no leadership in the caucus”.
“It was not going to be easy to remove her [Mazibuko] just like that, not in the middle of the term and before the elections. But they tried to weaken her,” said the MP.
The debate around employment equity gave prominence to the DA’s black caucus, a loose formation of the party’s senior black leaders who also held a different view from Zille’s on employment equity.
Maimane was not part of that group and largely kept away from its meetings, according to DA sources.
Party sources said Mazibuko left because she knew she would lose the battle for parliamentary leadership.
Two DA MPs and a staff member said Mazibuko had not only lost Zille’s support but that the “boys” who supported her in her race against former Parliamentary leader Athol Trollip had also deserted her.
“Mmusi is the new guinea pig and Lindiwe has become the sacrificial lamb,” said one MP.
“They [DA MPs] were not supporting Lindiwe in the first place; they were merely supporting Helen’s choice. She is no longer Helen’s choice,” said the MP.
There are already fears that should Maimane become Parliamentary leader he may not perform as well as Mazibuko did because he’s got a different style of doing politics. While Maimane has appealed to many voters in Gauteng where he was a premier candidate and to national supporters throughout campaigns, the source said the party’s national spokesperson was not “aggressive” enough to be a Parliamentary leader.
“Even when he gives a political talk or shouts a ‘viva’ he doesn’t raise a fist, he points a finger,” said the source. “With the EFF coming to Parliament there’s going to be a lot of competition.”
Mazibuko could still return to Parliament as a DA MP, but she would need to wait for a vacancy to open when someone resigns or gets redeployed. Those who prefer her over Maimane are putting their hopes on the DA’s mid-term assessment, which they anticipate could see Maimane falling from the position should he fail to perform.
“As long as Mazibuko does not remove her name from the DA list, she will lead the reserve list and will be the first one in, should someone resign,” the DA staff member said.
Zille said though she tried unsuccessfully to convince Mazibuko to stay, the DA wished its rising star well.
“We rejoice with her at receiving this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The DA looks forward to her return, and to her re-engagement in active politics. Both she and the DA will be greatly enriched by her experience.”
Mazibuko will be studying for a masters in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government.
An MP who sympathises with Mazibuko said Maimane would “last as long as he says what the party leader wants”.
“They will push him and say he is gold … wait until he starts saying what he wants,” said the source.
Meanwhile, Cosatu in the Western Cape has accused the DA of “dishonesty” by putting Mazibuko up as a candidate when the party knew she was about to go on a study break.
“This is clearly deceiving to the voters who thought their vote would get them represented by Mazibuko,” said Cosatu Western Cape provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich in a statement. “This is the kind of smoke and mirrors of the DA, who put up black candidates to get the people to vote for them, but then ditch the black candidates for the white leaders in senior positions.”
Zille said the party would elect its parliamentary leadership at the end of the month and said Maimane is yet to declare his candidacy. – Additional reporting by Mmanaledi Mataboge