Mbali Ntuli, the KwaZulu-Natal firebrand Democratic Alliance member who was once thought could be a future leader of the party, has quit.
Ntuli is added to the list of DA leaders who have left the party after protracted factional battles.
The often outspoken party leader who helped raise the DA’s profile in rural KwaZulu-Natal said she will be retreating to “communities” to help create a platform that may one day change South Africa’s political climate.
“I have gained platform, network and the time to see how the political system works and how organisations work. For me, what’s important is that there are so many people in communities around the country doing amazing work that is parallel to the government and need the exposure, empowerment and help that they aren’t currently getting.
“Those are the people I want to highlight and that is the kind of work I want to do. I want to give them opportunities and networks. There is a space for organisations and civil society and people out of the political realm to start taking that space,” she told the Mail & Guardian.
Ntuli says her next role will be assisting in the shift and the reimagination of politics and community work.
Ntuli’s vision is to create a new version of the United Democratic Front that would bring different organisations and people together to contest for power.
“There is a huge plethora of society who just want to see a change but also don’t want to be tied to the rigidity of a political party need to look, think and feel,” she said. “There is a space for organisations and civil society and people out of the political realm to start taking that space.”
Ntuli has been considered one of the DA’s fiercest agitators, often butting heads with the party’s matriarch, Hellen Zille. In a letter to party delegates shortly before John Steenhuisen’s election as party leader, Ntuli said there was a cult-like behaviour in DA ranks. She blamed Zille for a racial trust deficit in the DA caused by her controversial social media statements.
In 2017, Ntuli was charged for misconduct after she allegedly “liked” a Facebook comment accusing Zille of being racist.
This came after Zille tweeted that those claiming the legacy of colonialism was only negative must reflect on the independent judiciary, transport infrastructure and piped water.
Some party insiders believed Ntuli was being targeted to prevent her from contesting a leadership position.
Ntuli disrupted the DA’s succession certainty when she went up against Steenhuisen in the leadership contest in 2020.
“If the party and an entity were more self-aware, it would see that something has gone wrong, that there is a need for introspection,” Ntuli said. “There are some really great people in the DA. I think it’s sad what has happened. It’s sad in terms of the politics of the day and sad for all the people who have put in decades of hard work to see it being undone.”
She said that although the DA had opened up a space for young people to grow in politics, that has changed.
“For a long time the DA was a good opposition party but there comes a time where you have to move with the times and I don’t think the party has been able to do that adequately and it has not been able to capitalise on the many blunders of the governing party,” Ntuli said.
“I have always been forthright about what things concern me in the party that is why I ran the campaign that I did. I didn’t want to be someone raising issues and complaining, I put my hand up to try and make that change. I felt it was potentially salvageable at that moment.
“I don’t think anyone takes this decision lightly. I’ve been proud of the work I’ve been doing for the DA for a long time but I’ve reached the point where I think I have a lot more to offer and I feel very constrained by the current political party system,” she added.
Ntuli said she was leaving the DA on her own terms.
A number of former DA leaders have joined Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, most notably Athol Trollip and John Moodey. Ntuli said she has no appetite to join another political party, emphasising that there is more to do on the ground.
“I don’t think that every politician that leaves needs to necessarily jump into a political party. I’m very content with going to the ground and working again. I would like to see whether my ideas have any traction with people. I hope people will join and it will be a collaborative project,” she said.
Ntuli’s rise in the party led her to become the youngest member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature at the age of 26. She led the DA youth wing and became one of its most recognisable members going up against the ANC Youth League on several media platforms.
Ntuli was instrumental in the DA’s growth in rural KwaZulu-Natal, traditionally home to the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The DA achieved a seat in every municipality in uMkhanyakude, a first for the party, in the 2016 local elections.
“I would like to think I’ve made it possible for young women to want to enter the political space. I’ve stood my ground and made my family, parents and communities I served proud of the work we have achieved together,” she said.