I’m my own man, says newly elected DA leader Madikizela

Newly elected Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela (in blue shirt) says he has a proven track record of what he has done for poor communities

Newly elected Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela (in blue shirt) says he has a proven track record of what he has done for poor communities

Bonginkosi Madikizela, the newly elected Democratic Alliance leader in the Western Cape, says he is his own man, so being labelled a lackey of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille doesn’t faze him.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, he lambasted supporters of Lennit Max, the former Western Cape police commissioner and DA member of the provincial legislature, for refusing to accept the outcome of last week’s elective conference.

Madikizela defeated Max by a narrow margin of 16 votes. But Max’s supporters have claimed there were irregularities during the elections. 

The new provincial leader said he was inundated with congratulatory messages from his supporters in and outside the party.

“Two hours after [Saturday’s announcement] I looked at my phone and I had 130 messages. Across the board people were congratulating me, coming from all political parties, acquaintances and friends,” Madikizela said.

But his perceived proximity to Zille earned him a fair amount of criticism, with some of his detractors accusing him of being used by a conservative grouping in the party.

Madikizela sounded irritable as he dismissed claims that his rise to the top position was a result of his unwavering loyalty to Zille.

“That’s the oldest trick in the book; that is now tired,” he said.

“I have a proven track record of what I did within the party and for communities, particularly poor communities, so that doesn’t bother me. In fact, I normally don’t dignify it with a response because it’s a non-issue, it’s propaganda.”

Madikizela’s critics pointed to his defence of Zille when she landed in hot water for her controversial tweets on colonialism.

He also faced criticism for lodging a complaint against former DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli for a comment on her Facebook page where another social media user called Zille racist.

Party insiders have claimed that Madikizela was promised the position of acting provincial leader in exchange for him lodging the complaint against Ntuli, an allegation he has denied.

He dismissed the criticism against him as a ploy by the ANC to discredit black leaders rising through the DA’s ranks.

“You must remember the ANC has nothing left to offer besides race and also insulting and labelling DA leaders who are growing within the DA. But South Africans are seeing through the ANC. I’m not worried about that really. I’m my own person,” Madikizela said.

The DA has been accused of window-dressing — using black leaders while still harbouring untransformed ideas and policies. Some senior black party members such as Makashule Gana, a Gauteng member of the provincial legislature, have been vocal about racism in the DA.

But Madikizela was quick to defend the party, saying, although there were those who harboured racist ideals, the phenomenon was not only prevalent in the DA.

“Here’s the reality … we have a history in South Africa and in every party you will find people who still have those racial tendencies, not only in the DA, by the way. So we must not speak as if this thing is unique to the DA,” he said.

Madikizela’s rise through the DA’s ranks follows a colourful political career. A former member of the ANC, he was expelled from the party in 2006 because of a plan he and other disgruntled ANC members from Khayelitsha had to contest the 2006 municipal elections as independent candidates. He joined the United Democratic Movement (UDM) a year later, serving as the party’s Cape Town metro secretary. But his stay was short-lived after the party discovered that he had recruited other UDM members to join the DA.

Following his election last weekend, Madikizela said one of his key areas of focus would be the 2019 general elections and the DA’s ambitions of reducing the ANC’s support to below 50% nationally. Under his leadership, the DA in the Western Cape would also focus on growing its support base — particularly among black voters, whom it was targeting ahead of 2019.

Madikizela said, although the DA made some inroads in black areas during the 2016 local government elections, there were still ANC strongholds in some of the Western Cape townships, in which voters had demonstrated they still mistrusted the DA, making it difficult for the party to capture new votes.

“If you want people to trust you, you must have a strategy that focuses on those areas on a permanent basis. Do door-to-door [visits], have one-on-one interactions, deliver their services on a continuous basis. We mustn’t go there once and then disappear,” he said.

Earlier this year the Western Cape government, in which Madikizela serves as housing MEC, was accused of being anti-poor when it sold a piece of land earmarked for low-cost housing in Sea Point to a private investor.

The party has also been accused of dedicating fewer resources to poor black areas in the Western Cape — accusations Madikizela dismissed as being mere propaganda and not backed by any facts.

Although Madikizela has been tipped as a suitable candidate to replace Zille as Western Cape premier, he maintained the premiership was not in his sights and that his only focus was on making sure the DA retained control of the Western Cape during the 2019 elections.

He said his main concern was not to disappoint DA voters and the senders of those 130 congratulatory messages.

“It puts a lot of pressure [on me ]because, if you get such an overwhelming positive response, it means people have faith in you. And I pray to God not to disappoint them.” 

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