DA’s Mbali Ntuli resigns as youth leader

The Democratic Alliance’s Mbali Ntuli has resigned as youth leader, the party has confirmed. This follows an increasingly acrimonious relationship with party leader Helen Zille, the Mail & Guardian understands.

Ntuli’s resignation marks the party’s third high profile resignation this year, following the departure of the party’s former parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko in May and chief executive Jonathan Moakes resignation earlier this month

Moakes announced his intention to leave his post by the end of the year, to spend more time with his family.

Ntuli remains a DA member and a member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature.

Zille launched a verbal attack on Ntuli in February, when the youth leader expressed her reservations about the DA’s planned march to Luthuli House.

Zille badgered Ntuli
Newspaper reports at the time alleged that Zille had called Ntuli a prima donna with a huge ego, while Ntuli maintained she was entitled to hold personal views.

Zille subsequently badgered Ntuli with calls, the M&G understands, to which Ntuli did not respond, SMSing to say she was not in “the right space” Zille later told the media, slating the young leader as unprofessional.

Ntuli has been credited with helping build the party’s support in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly among young people, and together with Mazibuko represented the changing face of the party’s previously white dominated leadership. The 26-year-old Ntuli was head girl of Wykeham Collegiate in Pietermaritzburg and studied social science at Rhodes University in Grahamstown.

After her studies she led the DA Youth in the province and was tasked with building a DA presence in townships like KwaMashu and Ntuzuma. She was appointed the first chairperson of DA Youth in 2010, and began her career in government in 2011, when she was voted in as ward councillor in the eThekwini local government elections. In 2013 she was chosen as the party’s youth leader. Her father started the KwaZulu-Natal Taxi Association and she founded her own taxi business to help her family get by when her father died.

Increasingly sidelined
However, she has appeared to be increasingly sidelined in the party following her fall-out with Zille, and had apparently been recently tasked with building a DA constituency in a remote area with no DA presence: a situation her supporters believe she was set up to fail. She also did not receive much support or resources for her role as youth leader, unlike Zille’s favoured leader Mmusi Maimane who had a number of support staff and a large budget to run both his failed campaigns as Johannesburg mayor and Gauteng premier in previous elections.

The party’s spokesperson Phumzile van Damme told the M&G Ntuli had resigned to focus on her new role as an MPL, and on her new constituency, which van Damme confirmed was in an area with little DA support.

Mazibuko announced her resignation in order to study at Harvard University via a newspaper interview immediately after the May elections, before discussing it with party leaders. Zille together with her right hand man, Gavin Davis, subsequently cast aspersions on Mazibuko’s style of leadership and prospects within the party. Davis was the party’s previous director of communications and currently an MP, who was often at loggerheads with Mazibuko.

Black caucus
Both Mazibuko and Ntuli are part of a group of DA members dubbed the “black caucus” by media, who are seeking greater transformation in the party and opposed to Zille’s increasingly authoritarian hold on the party.

The group was dealt a blow when Mazibuko resigned. Their attempt to have the party’s deputy federal chair Makashule Gana stand against, Maimane as the new parliamentary leader was unsuccessful, when Gana decided not to stand after all. Maimane was made parliamentary leader following Mazibuko’s departure despite no experience in Parliament. Analyst Eusebius McKaiser told the M&G the party under Maimane has been completely overshadowed by the newcomer Economic Freedom Fighters led by Julius Malema, despite their far superior numbers.

Ntuli’s resignation is understood to be part of a longer term plan to strengthen her position in her native KwaZulu-Natal.

Biggest problem is Zille
One source close to developments in the DA, who is strongly aligned with Mazibuko’s group, told the M&G the biggest problem in the DA at the moment was Zille. “There is a lot of unhappiness with her leadership style … a lot of the problems boil down to her.”

Zille’s stated intention to stand as DA leader at the party’s next conference stopped others from stepping up, said the source.

“If she had refused to answer that question and fuelled speculation that she would not stand, instantly two and three people would have started forming plans to stand. Saying she’s standing takes a lot of wind out of the sails of potential leaders.”

Zille dismissed the notion when it was put to her in questions by the M&G previously. “You can’t seriously believe this garbled and unfounded analysis, surely? I have not made up my mind and I have never said I have. Frankly, I just ignore this kind of thing.”

Ntuli has just returned to South Africa after being selected for two prestigious opportunities in the United States which ran for several weeks: President Obama’s Young African Leaders programme and the first US African Leaders summit in Washington DC, according to a DA statement. 

The M&G understands that Ntuli has been frustrated with the DA’s increasingly indecisive and conservative approach to policy decisions.

Ntuli and Zille were both not immediately available for comment. Van Damme told the M&G the DA wished Ntuli well in her new challenge. “She will undoubtedly tackle her new role of growing the DA in new markets with great tenacity.”

A previous version of this article included a reference to Moake’s reasons for leaving. It has since been removed.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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