Working out what Mazibuko really stands for

A few weeks ago the Mail & Guardian ran a comment piece that said it was time the Democratic Alliance’s Lindiwe Mazibuko articulated what she stood for, partly to allay the suspicion that she was being pushed into office by the party’s powerful hierarchy, which still wants to run the party but using her as a proxy.

The comment did not go down well with some inside the DA and their supporters outside, who felt that we feared being labelled supporters of the DA and that we were indirectly endorsing Mazibuko’s competitor for parliamentary leader, Athol Trollip.

As expected, Mazibuko has since won the contest against Trollip. But it appears that, now that she is in the driving seat, her troubles are only starting. Let’s leave aside the embarrassing episode when party leader Helen Zille accused Masizole Mnqasela (a black man denied the vote and a decent living by apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd) of being trapped in Verwoerdian thinking because he had issues with Mazibuko. Isn’t it just ironic?

I will gloss over this episode and leave it to the DA to resolve such matters. But the issue of who Mazibuko is and what she stands for is becoming ever more pressing as everyone tries to define what she purportedly represents. In a letter to the editor in Business Day, a DA supporter opined: “I very much doubt that Mazibuko will champion the poor over big business. Nor should she.”

We know that Julius Malema called her Helen Zille’s tea girl and Blade Nzimande suggested there was something wrong with her because she did not grow up in a township. The fact is that she had a protected and privileged upbringing, which is a different experience from that of millions of young black women her age in South Africa, but should that be used against her?

Mnqasela accordingly asked whether she is the right sort of black person to be leading the party. It is an interesting side issue, this, because the implication is that because of her advantages she is unable to identify with and articulate the aspirations of the poor and marginalised.

It is comparable to what critics point out as the hypo­crisy of Malema leading an “economic freedom” march of poor young South Africans from Johannesburg CBD to Pretoria and then jetting off to a luxurious wedding in Mauritius a few hours later.

And the South African Institute of Race Relations, through its chief executive Frans Cronjé, is also putting its own pressure on Mazibuko, saying she must defend the “tradition” she has inherited. The tradition they want her to defend is to distance herself from black economic empowernment, employment equity and land reform, calling them race-biased legislation that is at odds with the “liberal tradition of property rights and equality under the law”.

“Mazibuko’s answers must tell us whether she will defend the tradition she has inherited,” Cronjé argued. I don’t know where she stands on these matters, but she is being asked to disavow her blackness.

So far I have not heard her speak about her blackness and whether that means anything to her and her outlook on the world. Her party, interestingly, is one that preaches a brand of non-racialism that says: “Forget about your race and let’s all work together as one nation.”

It speaks highly of meritocracy, which is an insistence on merit, regardless of the history of this country. But whereas the DA contemptuously rejects any notion that Mazibuko was elected because she is black, there is no doubt that her blackness was a key advantage in relation to where the DA wants to position itself in trying to recruit black voters.

So, in a sense, you have people who elect her because they see her blackness as great leverage, and then immediately ask her to forgo her race once she gets the position. If you are looking for hypocrisy somewhere in our political space, this is where to find it.

But, luckily for them, they might not have to sweat too hard, because from what I know of Mazibuko she herself does not make too much of her history or race. Unlike many of us who will always see this country’s future in reference to where we come from and how black people have been treated, she is one of those who believes that “we should not get too hung up on our past and we should move on to [be] a rainbow nation”.

That is why I do not believe that we should hold our breath and hope that something about the DA and how it projects itself will change. The party has promoted a young, eloquent leader who is quintessentially DA and does not strive for anything more.

So I would say to the likes of Cronjé and Dan Roodt (who called her a “fake black”) that they need not worry—Mazibuko is here to carry the party along much the same trajectory.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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