The political mills grind exceedingly small

2011-10-29 00:00

THE contrast could not be starker. While the African National Congress ponders putting their Young Turk up for adoption or yet again smacking his wrist and banishing him to the naughty corner, the opposition elected theirs as parliamentary leader.

The Democratic Alliance’s Lindiwe Mazibuko this weekly easily ousted her pale-male predecessor, Athol Trollip. It was a dramatic, necessary, but potentially risky move by the DA caucus.

The 31-year-old Mazibuko, protégé of party leader Helen Zille, was elected MP in 2009 and joined the DA only five years ago. That’s as long as she has been active in politics, her interest whetted by an honours dissertation on Zille.

The campaign to oust Trollip from the post of leader of the opposition highlights another DA difference from the ANC.

In the governing party, naked political ambition is frowned upon as conduct unbecoming the loyal cadre.

Whatever secret back-stabbing takes place, ambitions must remain cloaked from the public until the ANC faithful deliver the summons for deployment. Even a whiff of ambition can mean exclusion from the inner circle, as Jacob Zuma can attest.

In contrast, Mazibuko ran a slick campaign, employing a public relations agency to lobby her caucus colleagues for their votes. She kicked off at a press conference where she introduced her backers — both black and white, both leftist and conservative — and in the following weeks the media was drip-fed a steady stream of glowing collegial endorsements, timed to create the impression of a tidal wave of support.

The outgunned Trollip camp objected in vain that a public campaign would “create divisions” in the party, incidentally a line much favoured by ANC incumbents under similar siege. At a council meeting presided over by Wilmot James, a Mazibuko backer, the DA ruled that she had done nothing improper and it seems that the obvious question — who was funding her campaign — was never asked.

Zille stood theoretically aloof from the fray, though she spoke coyly to the New Age on the need for a “generational mix” in the leadership and of “infusing new blood” as the way forward. Provincial leaders and party representatives apparently felt less constrained and the sometimes embarrassingly treacly endorsements of Mazibuko kept flowing.

Dene Smuts, the DA’s shadow Justice minister, was one of the few to publicly support Trollip in what was clearly a losing battle. The pugnacious Smuts, not one to trim her sails to prevailing winds, cheekily appropriated Zille’s favourite imagery of the DA growing its own forest of future black leaders.

“This is a contest between an untested sapling from the grow-your-own-timber nursery against a tree that has shown it does not bend,” growled Smuts.

The parliamentary leadership should not be seen as a “transformation test” for the DA, since there are “far stronger” black leaders than Mazibuko.

Another MP, black, earned Zille’s ire when he used the term “window dressing” to describe Mazibuko’s candidacy.

Zille was obviously delighted when Mazibuko won.

This is “the dawn of a new era”, the DA has taken “a big step into the future”, and has “crossed the first Rubicon”.

Politicians should be wary of fluvial allusions. Rubicon crossing has an unhappy history in South Africa, with former president PW Botha drowning, metaphorically speaking, during his infamous failed crossing.

Whatever the gloss put on it — necessity is often expediently recast as an act of virtue in politics — the DA has done no more than was necessary. It needs credible black leaders and the delay in achieving this, citing an aversion to “window dressing”, cost it electorally.

Now the political mill looms.

It will test whether Mazibuko is ironwood or pine.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.