Mazibuko inspires mixed emotions

2011-10-29 16:47

The DA must decide whether it believes that race matters or not. It can’t have it both ways.

If race is such a non-factor, why make a big deal of the election of one of many young talents as a parliamentary leader?

Why does the election of one Lindiwe Mazibuko constitute the crossing of a Rubicon, as the DA itself attests. It cannot be because she is a woman, for the DA already has women leaders.

So if Mazibuko’s great differential is that she is the first black woman to become parliamentary leader of the organisation, the party must be honest enough to say so.

It’s not as if they have never had talented parliamentary leaders before. Or is it?

Mazibuko happens to be black and female. She cannot be held responsible for this or for having parents who could give her an ­education that has given her the exposure she enjoys.

Like Nelson Mandela, she need not apologise for her accent.

The party has decided, very surreptitiously though, that gender and race matter in South Africa. Whether it says so publicly or not, it hopes that because of the accidents of history that begat Mazibuko, she will resonate with a certain class of voters that the party craves.

The trouble is, Mazibuko herself doesn’t think blackness matters much, as she told the Cape Town Press Club and as she repeated on Friday when she told SAfm listeners that if it did, parties like Azapo, the PAC and the UDM would all be bigger than they were ­because they were led by black people.

It is difficult enough to trust politicians but it is harder when one who is cast and celebrated in her own party for her blackness believes it is an utterly irrelevant feature of being South African.

How does a leader meant to resonate with the one in four voters who do not vote for the DA aim to improve the party’s fortunes if she perpetuates the notion that blacks should just snap out of it and get on with building the rainbow nation?

If she hopes I will buy into her party’s vision of a better future for South Africa, I expect her to recognise and articulate her views about what it means to be black in South Africa under the current property relations and constitutional arrangements.

More than skin colour is what defines blackness today.

That’s why Julius Malema summarised the Economic Freedom in our Lifetime march as the expression by young black people of the desire to live like whites.

Surely, the DA caucus and leaders know this, which is why she replaced veteran MP Athol Trollip.

But if this was meant to attract someone like me and the rest of the 80% of voters who don’t vote for the DA, it would have helped at the very least, to recognise that for the majority of South Africans their blackness is not just some arbitrary fact to be ticked off on the census counter’s sheet. - Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

The election of Lindiwe Mazibuko as the new DA parliamentary leader makes sense when you consider that the party is aiming to increase its black support base.

All indications are that the official opposition is a party that is trying its best to shed its historical image of an organisation that exists solely to defend white privilege.

In fact, none other than the 31-year-old Mazibuko came to mind when DA leader Helen Zille told City Press earlier this year that the party’s next leader would be black.

Of course, she did not specify whether by “black” she meant “African” in the interview colleague Adriaan Basson and I had with her about two days after the municipal elections.

Mazibuko – who had just been disparagingly dismissed as the “madam’s tea-girl” by Julius Malema that day – is the kind of person who would appeal to the demographic Zille wants to attract to the DA.

A DA leader told me the party’s target black voter had five characteristics, which include:
» Youth;

» A good education;

» If they were asked whether or not the DA was racist, they would answer “no”.

In a nutshell, they are middle-class black folks. They are the kind of demographic someone like Mazibuko is likely to appeal to.

Critics in her own party point to the fact that she hardly speaks an African language as one of her flaws, adducing this as proof that she cannot appeal to the masses.

They are missing the point. The DA is not likely to become a mass party until it is identified with a critical mass of black leaders.

Athol Trollip is a fluent isiXhosa speaker, has a good political pedigree and much experience, but I doubt if he is the sort of political leader who could deliver what the DA desperately needs to grow as a party.

In fact, Trollip would probably be the first to admit that the party faced certain ­stagnation if it didn’t overcome its image as a white party.

Zille has sold her party as a “non-racial” one. Like most parties that profess non­racialism in the SA political landscape, its version of non-racialism seems to translate into multiracialism in practice.

That’s why the party’s election campaign prominently featured Zille, Mazibuko and Patricia de Lille. Whether this is a step towards real non-racialism remains to be seen.

Some in the DA argue that its policy positions gain more authenticity and resonance when articulated by Mazibuko than they would from the mouth of a white leader.

But I suspect her major battle will be to convince her own constituency that she is a genuinely black voice and not a front. That might prove a much bigger challenge than overthrowing Trollip. - Sabelo Ndlangisa

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