Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate and the man dubbed the conscience of Nigeria, once observed that tigers don’t proclaim their “tigritude”, they pounce. The Democratic Alliance’s leader, Helen Zille, has made all sorts of noises in the past few years about the fact that her party is becoming a truly South African political outfit without the baggage of its tragic past.
The vision of Zille and other liberals in the party is to woo black African support in villages and townships, which it sees as fundamental to unseat the ANC in 2014, when the country holds its next national elections.
But the party is hobbled in its march to progress by its character and image as a pro-white opposition party concerned with minority rights and the protection of wealth and property. In a country affected by vast inequalities, high levels of poverty and rising unemployment, the DA is seen as retrogressive because of its ambivalence about affirmative action, black economic empowerment and the proposed taxation of the rich.
South Africans want to know whether the DA is genuine in its support for Lindiwe Mazibuko as parliamentary leader or whether this just a publicity stunt reminiscent of 2008 when the party’s Joe Seremane stood as a candidate to challenge Kgalema Motlanthe for the presidency after the ANC recalled former president Thabo Mbeki? The Seremane act elicited guffaws of laughter throughout Parliament and across the country. Let us hope Mazibuko won’t be led through the same slaughter parade.
For a party that has forever been criticised for its white image, it is laudable that the DA is making an effort to transform itself, even if it’s by having a black woman as the party’s second-in-command.
As good as the move is, there is just area in which Mazibuko’s backers are failing — explaining to DA members why she’s a suitable candidate for this position. Considering that she’s only been an MP for two-and-a-half years it would be nice to hear what else she’s good at besides her popular eloquence. What particular skills does she bring? Can she stand up to the old-timers of the DA without being intimidated? Does she have the will to continue transforming the DA further?
South Africans should take an interest in this leadership race because the DA seems to be one of few opposition parties that appears truly intent on vying for power. The DA needs black leaders if it wants to build a strong opposition, but how those leaders are chosen and treated will discredit or help its objective. Mazibuko should not be used to remote control the party in Parliament. If she wins, the DA should be serious about letting her lead and not make this a cosmetic transformation.
Read the second half of the editorial “Secret state tightens screws“