Book review – Lindiwe Mazibuko, presidential material in the making

2014-01-26 14:00

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DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko wants to be president one day. At the Joburg launch of her unauthorised biography this week, she said she was aiming for the presidency after 2019. If Mamphela Ramphele had joined DA leader Helen Zille to form a new party, the Democrats, Mazibuko would have been telling a different story now, according to this edited extract from the book by journalist Donwald Pressly

Curiously and ironically, the collapse of the Ramphele-Zille negotiations was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Mazibuko.

Had Ramphele become the leader of a new party, Mazibuko would probably have had to make way for her as leader of the opposition in 2014 because the new formation, the Democrats, would surely have retained the status of official opposition.

If Ramphele had accepted the mantle of leader of the Democrats, she would have been parachuted into the most important post available in parliamentary opposition politics.

While it is an open secret that Ramphele believes she has a good chance of snatching power even with her new party, this is, to borrow one of Margaret Thatcher’s descriptions, cloud-cuckoo-land political mathematics.

Even the DA, which has a vested interest in dislodging the ANC from power as the second-largest political force in Parliament, does not believe it will get more than 30% of the vote.

The combined opposition will likely get 38% on the downside to 44% on the upside of the vote. This means that Mazibuko’s political bacon as leader of the opposition will have been saved.

I asked Helen Zille whether the formation of the Democrats under the leadership of Mamphela Ramphele would have been “the perfect [political] storm”.

Zille was candid: “I think so. I worked hard to achieve that. I was prepared to step down [as leader]. In fact, it was a fait accompli that I was going to step down. It was all agreed. That would have been a very big catalytic moment in our politics.”

Pressed on whether Ramphele would have been the right candidate, the person “fit for purpose”, an expression that Zille often uses, the DA national leader said: “She has a very big brand and an unimpeachable struggle history. I have always believed that what we need is a very strong leader from the era of struggle to identify with our cause very publicly. Many do privately and do not publicly. If she was leading our campaign it would be very helpful.”

Zille did not stop there: “It would have been good for her and good for South Africa?...?to the democrats, to our value set, that is the critical thing.” That didn’t happen.

“None of that worked out?...?the best-laid plans of mice and men.”

I asked about Mazibuko having to step aside as leader of the opposition if that plan had come to fruition. Zille agreed that would have had to be the case, “that was the difficulty”, but “she and I were happy to stand back”.

Zille added: “Both Lindiwe and I would have stood down for her?...?neither of us had a problem with that.”

Mazibuko didn’t know at the time of her election as parliamentary leader that the plan was for her to stand aside, but once the plan for the new party was explained to her, she was happy to do so.

So Ramphele would have taken up the seat as leader of the opposition as well as leader of the Democrats?–?even before the election?

“That was the plan. I thought it was a done deal.”

Reflecting on the impact on Mazibuko’s career, Zille said that if 66-year-old “Mamphela”, as she called her, had come in for, say, two terms (of five years each) in Parliament, Mazibuko would only be in her early 40s “and have a whole political life span ahead of her” when Ramphele stepped down.

“You only reach your political zenith in your 60s. As a mathematician you are in your peak form in your 20s?... as a politician it is in your 60s.

“Experience in politics is so much. You have to be battered around a bit?...? there was no sense that Mamphela was going to detract from Lindiwe’s political career. Lindiwe has decades and decades ahead of her in politics?...?Nelson Mandela became president when he was 70.”

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