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South Africa’s DA isn’t even remotely a white party any more – Mazibuko

By Gemma Ware
Posted on Monday, 15 April 2013 12:20

For Lindiwe Mazibuko, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in parliament, this is the opposition’s moment.

As the governing African National Congress faces criticism from all quarters – the unemployed, trade unions and big business – the political landscape is changing.

Mazibuko appears up to the challenge. At 32, she has taken on President Jacob Zuma in a no confidence vote in parliament and is leading a caucus of much more experienced MPs.

The biggest task, she says, is working out “how a political party like ours creates the new centre of politics and draws enough South Africans, regardless of racial background, into the project”.

The DA has traditionally been seen as a party of white South Africans.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is set to go head to head with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in parliament in 2013 as opposition starts to coalesce against President Jacob Zuma’s party. The DA’s first battle will be in March when the Constitutional Court will decide if it is unconstitutional for the ANC to deny the opposition’s right to debate a motion of no confidence in Zuma that Mazibuko tabled on behalf of eight opposition parties last November. The ANC and the programming committee blocked the motion. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe slated the opposition’s legal measures and said the motion “would undermine the significance of the country’s parliament, essentially subordinating it to the judiciary”. The ANC is likely to allow the debate to go ahead but will use its majority to defeat it. Meanwhile, the ranks of opposition parties are getting more crowded after Mamphela Ramphele, a former World Bank managing director and chair of mining company Gold Fields, formed her own party in February● By Crystal Orderson in Cape Town

Although it is led by Western Cape premier Helen Zille, Mazibuko insists the DA is “not even remotely a white party anymore”.

She says the party moved beyond that label when it won 24 percent of the vote in 2011 municipal elections.

“Only 9 percent of South Africans are white. We can’t command 24 percent of the vote if we’re a white party,” she insisted, speaking to The Africa Report at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society late last year.

With less than 400 days until the country’s general election in 2014, the party was aiming for 30 percent of the vote and win Northern Cape and Gauteng.

Although Mazibuko says the racial hangover will always be there in the minds of some voters, “The question is when will we command enough support to hit that 50 percent mark, either in a coalition or on our own.”

Mazibuko says the DA may change names again and have a “Rubicon moment” of electing a black leader, but its values will remain.

“Our commitment to the constitution, to non-racialism, to redress and reconciliation, to a market-led economy, those things won’t change.”


Mazibuko acknowledges that there was a time in the DA when “diversity was something that everyone agonised so deeply over that there was a temptation to elect black candidates because they were black”.

It was a criticism levelled at her when she was elected in October 2011.

Hers was a stellar rise: from writing a paper on Zille as a student at the University of Cape Town, she became the DA’s media liaison officer and then a parliamentary candidate in 2009.

Mazibuko remains endlessly enthusiastic about the day-to-day machinery of parliament but says the barriers put in the way of holding government accountable make her despair.

She is animated about a constitutional court victory in October 2012 for Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who took the speaker of the national assembly to court because private members’ bills were constantly being rejected.

“[It] was a very simple ruling and a very elegant one. MPs shouldn’t have to ask for permission from parliament to do their jobs.”

Recent months have handed South Africa’s opposition some easy rallying points against the ANC, not least questions over ‘Nkandlagate,’ the outcry over R250m ($28m) of public money spent on upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s residence in KwaZulu-Natal.

“Nkandla is a very illustrative way to demonstrate to voters how the ANC of today views its role as a governing party,” says Mazibuko.

She holds some of her deepest resentment for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), however, which she accuses of stymying a youth wage subsidy early this year that the treasury had already budgeted for.

“If it had been implemented on time, it would have benefited about 300,000 young people by now,” she says.

When it comes to the breakdown in South Africa’s labour relations, Mazibuko rebukes traditional unions for being more concerned about collecting dues than protecting workers’ rights.

“By empowering Cosatu to filibuster their efforts just to govern, the ANC is strapping a dying organisation to its back and pumping it full of oxygen,” she says.


She also berates big business for rolling over to please the ANC, particularly mining companies that construct large housing projects or training colleges.

“What they’ve done is replaced the government, willingly so, because it’s easier to both suck up to the government and do its job for it than it is to hold it accountable,” she says.

Mazibuko is aware of the struggles of other opposition parties in Africa.

It has given her perspective on the importance of solidifying the architecture of democracy: the police, electoral commission and judiciary.

If these institutions are not strong and independent, she says, “there’s a danger of police not protecting opposition supporters in the rural countryside or the electoral commission not announcing the true election results”●

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