Outspoken: The charge against Mbali Ntuli is laying bare pro- and anti-Zille divisions in the DA.
A decision by the Democratic Alliance’s federal executive committee to charge KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli over a Facebook post may be deepening tensions among party leaders.
Acting Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela, who laid an official complaint against Ntuli, publicly disagreed with party leader Mmusi Maimane after he said he did not believe charging Ntuli was the best way to act.
“I don’t agree with Mmusi. I find that [comment] bizarre. Because Mmusi, as a leader, must ensure the equal application of rules for all members,” he said. “The last thing we want to do as a party is to create the impression that because of the colour of your skin you must enjoy more freedom of expression.”
Ntuli faces charges for bringing the party into disrepute and flouting its social media policy after “liking” a Facebook comment in December that accused Western Cape Premier Helen Zille of being racist.
The matter was brought to the attention of the party’s federal legal commission in February this year for a preliminary investigation. It recommended that Ntuli not be charged.
But the decision by the federal executive committee to reject this advice has raised tensions in the party.
Madikizela, who is known to be a close ally of Zille, said his decision to lay the complaint against Ntuli was informed by the need to see the consistent implementation of disciplinary measures after Zille was taken to task for her controversial tweets on colonialism.
“It can’t be that when one member is accused of possibly violating the social media policy and the matter is sent to [the federal legal commission] then it’s fine. And then another member is accused of the same thing and I, as a leader, say it must be solved between two people? That is not consistent,” he said.
Those who disagree with Madikizela allege he struck a deal with a conservative grouping in the DA: it would back him to become acting Western Cape leader in exchange for placing his name as the official complainant in the case against Ntuli, an allegation Madikizela dismissed.
Tensions in the party first became apparent after Zille’s tweets on colonialism in March, which offended black leaders in the DA, who distanced themselves from her comments.
The Mail & Guardian reported in April that the federal executive committee could be at risk of a split as Maimane faced the task of taking disciplinary action against Zille, who historically shared a joint support base with him in the structure.
Maimane’s rise to power was largely aided by the backing he enjoyed from Zille and those behind her. But his defence of Ntuli, a member of the so-called black caucus, a group of black leaders seeking increased change in the DA, has raised questions about the relations in the party’s highest decision-making body.
“I was surprised by his [Maimane’s] take on the matter. I don’t know what’s happening,” said a senior party leader, who chose to remain anonymous. He speculated that it could be because Maimane did not support the federal executive committee decision. “There is no way of saying for sure, but I think there’s something happening there.”
Those opposed to Ntuli’s disciplinary hearing believe it may be a ploy by those who see her as “uncontrollable” and critical of Zille to push her out of the party.
“She’s not controllable, and also because there are worries that she’s going to be running for a position when the party goes to its federal congress. So they’re really hoping to damage her credibility,” another senior DA member said.
The acrimonious relationship between the two women dates back to Ntuli’s days in the DA youth structure, in which she gained prominence as a critical leader. In 2014, the two fell out after Ntuli publicly criticised a planned DA march to
the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters, for which Zille verbally attacked her.
Ntuli is not the first black woman leader to clash with the former party leader. In 2014, former Parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko resigned from the party after a disagreement with Zille, allegedly over employment equity legislation.
Zille subsequently accused Mazibuko of being “power hungry”.
Party members who have observed the relationship between Zille and Ntuli over the years said the two had been at odds for a long time but this could not be traced to any one thing.
“I don’t know the source of their fights but they’re not friends, let’s just put it that way. It started years ago. Even for Mbali to resign as youth leader, it was one of the reasons; it just became unbearable,” a senior party member said.
Ntuli, who could not be reached for comment, is expected to face the disciplinary hearing on Thursday.