/ 9 February 2018

‘DA needs new strategy in KZN’

Right stuff: Former Democratic Alliance KwaZulu-Natal MPL and youth leader Mbali Ntuli has a new job – to attract young black voters in the province to the DA.
Right stuff: Former Democratic Alliance KwaZulu-Natal MPL and youth leader Mbali Ntuli has a new job – to attract young black voters in the province to the DA.

The Democratic Alliance needs to stop ostracising those who express differences within its ranks, says the party’s former youth leader, Mbali Ntuli.

The Democratic Alliance needs to stop playing it safe if it wants to reach new target markets, says the party’s former youth leader, Mbali Ntuli.

With the crucial 2019 national elections around the corner, the DA has appointed Ntuli as the party’s new head of campaign and strategy in KwaZulu-Natal, hoping she will boost the party’s electoral performance in the province. The DA is looking to make significant inroads in the ANC’s stronghold province in 2019 to decrease the governing party’s national average.

Her job will involve crafting a strategy to increase the DA’s support among the black electorate, targeting young and rural voters in particular.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Ntuli says she is aware that her approach to politics would probably be deemed as controversial by some in the DA.

“I would hope that the leadership that has chosen me [for the position] accepts who I am and [that] the kind of politics I exercise is very authentic … in terms of doing the right thing. And if it sometimes comes with making people feel agitated, so be it. As long as it’s in pursuit of the right thing,” Ntuli said.

Already, there has been a push for the party to acknowledge Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini as a critical stakeholder with whom the DA needs to engage. Last weekend, Ntuli, together with party leader Mmusi Maimane and KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango, visited Zwelithini at his home in Nongoma where issues of land, including the vast tracts owned by the Ingonyama Trust, were discussed.

Ntuli says she is aware that conservative elements in the party believed the visit to be an “un-DA” activity. But the party’s growth strategy in KwaZulu-Natal requires a different approach to what the party has been used to, she insists.

“Even to go to some places and have full access, you have to speak to the induna, so you need to already understand what’s going on there. And so some people might see it as: ‘Ah, but we don’t believe in monarchy’ and that’s fine,” she said.

“I have no doubt that that kind of thing has made some people [within the DA] uncomfortable, but it’s just something that they’re going to have to get used to.”

During the 2016 municipal elections, the DA increased its support in KwaZulu-Natal by 3.36% compared with the 2011 polls.

The ANC generated its highest number of votes from KwaZulu-Natal during that poll, with more than 3.7‑million of the 16‑million votes it received nationally coming from the province.

Achieving significant growth could prove to be challenging for the DA in a province that already has multiple parties vying for voter support.

With more than 900 000 votes being cast for the DA in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016, the party will face competition from the Inkatha Freedom Party, which has proven to be stronger in the rural north of the province, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, which attracted 3.5% support in the province during its first municipal election.

Still, the DA believes it will be able to bring the ANC’s support to below 50% in the province. Ntuli says part of her strategy will involve working with other opposition parties to remove the ANC from governance.

Prior to her appointment as DA head of strategy, Ntuli was a member of the provincial legislature. She also served as the DA Federal Youth leader between 2013 and 2014.

During that period, Ntuli developed an acrimonious relationship with Helen Zille, the party leader at the time. The two were often at odds over Ntuli’s open criticism of some DA decisions, prompting Zille to accuse her of being a “prima donna”.

She also faced charges of misconduct in 2017 after she publicly criticised the lack of consequences from the DA over Zille’s social media conduct. The charges were later dropped but Ntuli’s supporters believe the move was an attempt by some in the party to silence someone they viewed as a young black radical.

Ntuli seems unconvinced that the divide between the conservative “old guard” in the DA and a younger, more radical grouping is narrowing fast enough, but says the party’s growth will eventually force it to become more accepting of new approaches and opinions, she believes.

“The party is growing fast and with that comes growing pains. But I do think that one of the things that is going to come out of that is a greater tolerance for divergent sets of views, divergent ways of doing things,” she said.