Mazibuko’s classy pay-off

2014-05-13 00:00

THE pay-off for Lindiwe Mazibuko’s shock career gamble is sharing a classroom with the world’s power brokers, “at the centre of the intellectual world”.

The outgoing DA parliamentary leader stunned colleagues and supporters this weekend — days after booming the size of her caucus at the elections — by quitting her role to study politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Former DA leader Tony Leon studied similar courses at the same boutique campus in Boston in 2007 — and yesterday told The Witness that “whether or not she was right to leave, she gets 10 out of 10 for her choice of university”.

“The Kennedy School is a fantastic place — just by pitching up at the public lectures, you can meet everyone from Gorbachev to F.W. de Klerk; I met Samantha Power there, who is now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,” said Leon.

“The difference is that I was a fellow there, having a pretty relaxed time — Lindiwe is going as a student trying to get her MA [degree], and that’s really hard work. I think she has the intellect and personality to handle it well.”

Although she told reporters she was inspired by a visit to Yale University, a key attraction for Mazibuko, who voted in Durban North, is that the Kennedy School’s teachers are people who have actually changed the world.

“When I studied the same programme at the school in 2010, the instructor who taught me about the “surge” strategy in Iraq, Meghan O’Sullivan, was the actual architect of the surge, who convinced President George Bush to ‘double down’ on America’s bloody war deployment.”

The school is on a tiny, leafy campus near Boston’s Charles River, where students — many from the military, and most in their late 30s — mix with ambassadors, presidents and policymakers.

The lecture theatres are so small that, if they don’t come early, recognisable leaders have to bring chairs from the cafeteria to sit against the back wall, or beneath the coat racks.

“In my year, the actress Ashley Judd could not find a place in her first-choice class,” Leon said.

Six blocks away from the famous, 300-year-old “Harvard Yard”, the school has a separate culture from the rest of Harvard, with students often older than their instructors, and real-world deals are struck at the nearby Dunkin Donuts.

“When I took a course on ‘war, states and intervention’, I found myself seated between two senior combat pilots who were awe-struck by the nerdy-looking 36-year-old English instructor at the front. They explained that Rory Stewart — who was Prince William and Prince Harry’s military tutor at age 19 — had become a legend, after walking from Turkey to Bangladesh, through war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq, on his own.”

Stewart went on to become a governor of a province in occupied Iraq at the age of 29, and then — while writing three best-selling books and gaining a professorship — worked with Prince Charles to establish a foundation in Afghanistan to protect local culture. When students challenged Stewart on his knowledge of domestic politics, he said he’d stand for Parliament in the UK — and he won two months later.

Stewart is one of the governance “rock stars” from whom Mazibuko can expect to learn during her studies.

She did not respond to texted questions, but Leon said her decision was “an eye-opener”. “To leave your position when your party has just had your caucus expand by 22 members, and then start from scratch all over again — that’s quite a decision.”

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