THE loss of DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko is profound for the party and the country.
Mazibuko was a superstar.
So the question must be asked: how is it that the DA has come to lose someone who embodied all its best qualities? To answer that question, one needs to understand the internal condition of the party.
I interact and talk to many, many people inside the DA. Also many, many people inside the DA talk to me of their own volition.
In my case, now being outside the party, I get a fascinating perspective. You see the full extent of the unhappiness and discontent.
Make no mistake, there is a profound and fundamental division running deep. A civil war. Everyone talks about it all the time. The only people they don’t tell are South Africans. And the reason for that is that they are scared.
The public record is replete with many and powerful examples of a deep and fundamental divide between Mazibuko and DA leader Helen Zille, as well as those aligned to her.
In this sort of environment the result is a kind of slow torture. Your political life is sucked from you. What you believe becomes the source of despair, not encouragement. You can be sure there are many others in the DA who feel the same way as Mazibuko.
The evidence for this is overwhelming. It appears from discussions with DA members that Zille had placed a party staffer loyal to her in charge of all parliamentary communication (as an example of DA cadre deployment, the elected parliamentary leader of the opposition could not sign off the communication of her own caucus).
The relationship between the communications head and Mazibuko became entirely politicised, with the head of communications, a staff member, relentlessly undermining Mazibuko’s communication and denuding those platforms available to her of their worth.
Mazibuko’s staff have also been systematically isolated and marginalised inside the party.
In terms of the election, Zille’s primary issue, Nkandla, would be given to Mmusi Maimane to drive on television and defend in court.
And all the while, a campaign would be driven to elevate Maimane as a future leader of that caucus. Mazibuko was sidelined out of the DA’s campaign, reduced to a bit player on posters, adverts and party events. It is true Mazibuko was sick for some of this time, but these kinds of decisions are made months in advance of the actual campaign. In her place, a golden highway was paved for Maimane, Zille’s heir apparent and the ultimate yes-man.
The party’s Gauteng campaign was used to create a platform for his progression and he will now, inevitably, be anointed parliamentary leader. This will be the first time a DA politician has become parliamentary leader without ever serving in parliament, testament to Zille’s inability to maintain unity in her own caucus.
The interests of the party became internal, not external. And it was done because Mazibuko did not see eye to eye with Zille on many things and posed a potential threat to her future control of the DA. Zille’s response, and the response of those loyal to her, was to hound Mazibuko out of the party.
With Mazibuko’s departure, you can safely say there is no significant personality in the DA of any stature or standing who can say no to Zille.
In the other direction, however, there is a small but powerful cohort of acolytes around her that have built a career on saying yes. Mazibuko’s departure is a victory for them. They will be licking the blood off their lips.
Perhaps Mazibuko will return to the DA in parliament – but she will have to wait some considerable time. The forces at play are now deeply entrenched and there is much unhappiness to come over the next five years. – Gareth van Onselen
- Van Onselen is a BDLive columnist and former DA staffer