The former head of the DA Youth insists that she stepped down to achieve balance in her busy life.
Mbali Ntuli is excited. “I think it was definitely the right decision for myself and the DA Youth,” she says over lunch at a Durban restaurant.
Her resignation this week as the Democratic Alliance’s youth leader midway through her term came as a surprise. She had worked her way up the ranks and was a popular grass-roots leader who had built a significant DA presence in big townships in KwaZulu-Natal. She would have been due for re-election next year.
Ntuli acknowledges that stepping down sends out a message about the poor internal functioning of the DA Youth but is reluctant to be drawn on specifics, despite her resignation lifting the lid on how the party treats its youth.
Her resignation came as a result of realising she just couldn’t balance it all, she says. “For a long time there were tensions between my work as a councillor and DA Youth leader because I was away so often … it got strenuous and I didn’t feel I was living a very balanced life.”
The province’s decision to send Ntuli to build a constituency in the far-flung uMkhanyakude District Municipality close to the Mozambican border as a member of the provincial legislature is puzzling. There is very little DA support in the area and it is far from where the 26-year-old leader could perhaps have been more effectively deployed.
But she will not be drawn on any unhappiness, grimacing at the memory of public disagreements between herself and party leader Helen Zille that spilled over into the media.
Taking a fresh look
Now her resignation will force the party to look long and hard at their diminished youth structures, which critics say may explain the party’s lack of original ideas of late.
Several senior leaders in the DA, including Zille, dismissed the threat of the Economic Freedom Front (EFF) when asked by the Mail & Guardian, saying the public would soon tire of political theatrics.
But Ntuli said the DA Youth knew from the start that Julius Malema would pose a serious challenge, and tried to prepare for it.
“It did concern us as the DA Youth and we did come up with a strategy on how to deal with the EFF in January, that we workshopped and we gave to the party, but I think the party had their own strategy of how they wanted to deal with it.”
She smiles wryly but remains tight-lipped when asked what that strategy was, or how the party responded.
Ntuli wants to focus on the tricky business of her new constituency, and expand her budding women and youth activism. “I want to do cool stuff that is … not partisan politics.”
Rumour has it that, with time, Ntuli has an eye on provincial leadership. But she says she is not yet ready to move on. “I still fundamentally believe in the cause of the DA. Every party has periods where they’re probably not at their best and I think with the youth that’s certainly evident. But I don’t think it’s irredeemable.”