Resignation lays bare cracks in DA youth

Mbali Ntuli. (Rogan Ward)

Mbali Ntuli. (Rogan Ward)

The resignation of Democratic Alliance youth leader Mbali Ntuli has revealed deep cracks in the DA’s youth and student structures.

Ntuli told the Mail & Guardian in an interview that she had resigned for personal reasons rather than dissatisfaction with the youth strategy.

READ Ntuli: DA youth issues ‘can be fixed’

However, the Mail & Guardian has established that:

• The youth body only has permanent representatives in three of the nine provinces.

• There has been no DA Youth presence in the Western Cape, where the party governs, for several years for reasons that are unclear. The DA referred questions to its youth arm, which referred it to DA leader Helen Zille, who could not be reached.

• The DA Youth national executive has not met once since its election in 2012, owing to strenuous budget constraints. This is in contrast to the lavish campaign worth a reported R100-million spent on parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane’s failed bid to be elected Gauteng premier.

• At least three provincial leaders have resigned in the past year, two from KwaZulu-Natal.

• The DA student organisation (Daso) branches at tertiary institutions across the country have dropped from 27 a year ago to 15.

Sparse investment
Following Ntuli’s resignation, many youth leaders have spoken out about the under-investment in the party’s youth structures.

The party’s KwaZulu-Natal chair, Nicole Graham, resigned at the beginning of the year because she was “concerned there was no commitment to youth issues” from the party, she told Independent Newspapers this week. “I wasn’t sure of the support DA Youth was getting.” This echoes the concerns of others the M&G spoke to.

One former leader left the DA after realising that receiving resources from the party to carry out campaigns meant having to toe the line. “That’s what happened to Mbali; she didn’t do what they wanted so resources were withheld from her.”

Another former leader said the DA Youth has the biggest turnover rate of any structure in the party. “People leave in droves because they’ve been treated badly.” They noted that youth volunteers to support townships and rural areas had not been given simple resources in their campaigning for the DA.

DA Youth national media head Thorne Godinho, however,  said he is not considering resigning, contrary to media reports, and that constrained budgets are always an issue in an organisation.

Thomas Walters, the DA’s deputy chair who is tasked with overseeing the party’s ancillary operations such as youth and its women’s network, largely acknowledged the issues facing the party’s youth structures. He referred the M&G to Ntuli for confirmation of the finer details.

Positive moves
Walters was at pains to explain that the state of affairs was thanks to “positive developments” in the party, including:

• The prioritisation of the 2014 elections, which saw “all DA structures for the past two years refocus their normal activities on the 2014 elections”.

• The party’s internal cycle of selections. “A fresh batch of leaders is normally required after two to three years in any volunteer organisation.”

• The internal brain drain to other parts of the DA. But former leaders say promising youth leaders who now work in the DA or where the party governs don’t work with youth on the ground in order to voice their concerns, and generally have to toe the party’s line.

• The internal restructuring of the DA Youth, which will see Daso become a stand-alone organisation.

Verashni Pillay

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.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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