Beware the flattery

2014-06-24 00:00

NFP LEADER Zanele Magwaza-Msibi should be wary of all the praise the ANC is throwing her way.

Magwaza-Msibi, the former mayor of the Zululand District Municipality, has been given a comfortable position as the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, and she will be based in Pretoria.

Both the IFP and the DA criticised the National Freedom Party for allowing Mgwaza-Msibi to take up the cushy position.

But what does this mean for the NFP in KwaZulu-Natal?

I think it is still relevant to ask whether Magwaza-Msibi’s acceptance of the cabinet job was a wise political move on her and the NFP’s part.

The disadvantages seem to outweigh the benefits that are likely to come the party’s way.

Before accepting the cabinet post, Magwaza-Msibi had already decided to leave her mayoral post and take up an MP’s position.

This was probably an attempt to give the party a national presence, to play her part in national politics, and also appeal to a wider electorate.

But, she could have remained as the mayor of the district municipality and consolidated the support base of her party — this is a tactic DA leader Helen Zille is using in the Western Cape.

Now that she has taken up the MP and cabinet positions, the NFP may suffer as she may not have much time to attend to party matters, which take place predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal.

This could be compounded by the fact that other national NFP leaders, such as secretary-general Nhlanhla Khubisa and chairperson Maliyakhe Shelembe, are also in Parliament.

Khubisa and Shelembe will have to commute between Parliament and the province to run their party affairs.

This may inadvertently prove costly to the party as the officials may not be aware at all times of the challenges in their stronghold, KZN.

The situation Magwaza-Msibi has put herself in by taking up a cabinet position is nothing new in the country’s politics since the advent of democracy post-1994. Both the leaders of the IFP and Azanian People’s Organisation were offered posts in the cabinets of former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Despite having served in cabinet, the leaders of the two parties, which had internal problems while their leaders were in goverment, saw their support base dwindling to a point where the number of IFP MPs reduced and Azapo no longer has representation in Parliament.

Will the same happen to the NFP?

It is a prospect the party should have considered when its top leaders took parliamentary posts and its leader accepted the cabinet post.

Moreover, the acceptance of a cabinet post by Magwaza-Msibi is playing into the hands of the ANC, which had plans to wipe out opposition parties in the province. Late last year, the ruling party unveiled its plan to take over the Zululand district — something it has not had within its grasp since 1994.

With Magwaza-Msibi out of the way, it makes the work of the ANC much easier. It will come as no surprise if the ANC-led government now accelerates many development projects in the district to show potential voters that it is the ANC that is making change happen.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the people who are loyal to the NFP has started and the NFP may find, like the IFP did in the early 2000s, that once those voters are lost, they may never return.

So it was tactful, when delivering his State of the Nation address last week, that President Jacob Zuma heaped praise on three KwaZulu-Natal municipalities, including Magwaza-Msibi’s Zululand District Municipality.

The praise could have been a way to blind the NFP to accept with ease the cabinet post that was offered to its leader.

The response to Zuma’s praise was in stark contrast to the response Magwaza-Msibi received when she was appointed to do national duties in cabinet. At the time, the IFP dubbed her appointment a reward for helping take its votes away when she formed her party.

The ANC’s praise-the-NFP campaign is already reaping rewards. During the debate on Zuma’s address, Magwaza-Msibi was the only opposition leader whose criticism was uncharacteristically watered down.

But, time will tell whether the party’s decision to allow her to take up the cabinet post was a wise political move and if it will pay any dividends.

Or it could be the beginning of the end for a party that has fought very hard to establish itself as a major player in KZN politics.

• Mayibongwe Maqhina is a senior political reporter at The Witness.

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