After an internal letter from DA MPL Mbali Ntuli made it clear the 31-year-old would put up her hand to be the next party leader this year, she made her plans for it clearer at a press conference on Friday.
Ntuli is the former provincial campaigns director for the DA in KwaZulu-Natal. She currently serves as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature and as the DA KZN spokesperson on cooperative governance and traditional affairs.
She first rose to prominence when she was elected leader of the DA Youth in 2013.
Her letter was intended for internal distribution only, and she said on Friday she had received a lot of positive support for it and believed she had correctly captured the mood of many others like herself in the party.
ALSO READ: Mbali Ntuli wants to lead the DA to ‘save it from deep crisis’
She said at her press conference that she had already said in her letter what she believed to be the major issues confronting the party and its leadership, and would not focus on it again aside from acknowledging that she did not think the trajectory of the current leadership had the ability to arrest the current situation.
“Today I want to speak to you about why I am running for DA Federal leader, and why I am the leader we need to unite the party.”
She spoke about her experiences growing up in Durban after her father died in 1996, when she was eight, and how her encounter with a leading liberal politician, Roger Burrows, had introduced her to a man who “led people from different backgrounds to a place of understanding and mutual respect and encouraged a community where we all felt we belonged”. That had been part of her “first interactions with the DA”.
“It was Roger’s values and community leadership that attracted me to the DA. His belief that no matter who someone is, or where they come from, that we all deserve to have our rights respected and upheld. That even though we have different languages and cultures, we can coexist peacefully, with an acceptance and respect for the rights of others.”
She said the example of Burrows continued to inform her vision of what the DA could become. “It says so much about how one person can make a huge difference.
“I’m in this party because my history with it goes back to my formative years. I’m in this party because I believe we have many Roger Burrows among us and we just need to be reminded of how valuable all our contributions are to South Africa.
“I’m running because we need a politics in this country that is different. I want to make the party kind, strong and fair. I’m running because I believe if we can show South Africans the people who really make up the DA, they would see the DA I see; a DA of people doing their best to serve in a political climate that tries to crush their efforts at every turn.
“I believe if we can lead and take decisions, as a party, from a place of empathy and kindness, then we can show South Africans that the DA stands firm against tyranny, and is a champion for everyone, no matter who you are.”
Ntuli added that she had grown up keenly conscious of the history of struggle and oppression in South Africa against black people.
“I grew up in townships, and like many black South Africans I have rural homesteads that I call home. I’ve seen what land means to people who’ve historically had nothing else. I grew up falling asleep next to the fire while my grandmother would recite folklore and history about the Zulus. I carried water from the river and for many years I was in charge of lighting the candles when it got dark at my grandmother’s home, eMaphumulo.
“I have family that are still in those same townships and rural areas. Family who have never had steady jobs because they didn’t have the education to have them, despite being smart people. Many families, like mine, continue to rely on the support of their more privileged and employed relatives. It is the South African reality.”
She acknowledged the legacy of apartheid while saying that she had been lucky to be born to “industrious parents, and in a time that allowed it”.
“I was fortunate enough to have opportunities to go to good schools. I’ve had opportunities to mix with people from different backgrounds and not just see them as representatives of those backgrounds, but rather as friends. We were richer for it.
“I was the first person in my family to go to university, something considered so important in my family because so many had wanted to study further but had never had the opportunity.
“I’ve travelled the world and have negotiated it with ease because of my life of opportunity and fairness.
“This duality of worlds, the ability to seamlessly fit into two South Africas, is not unique to me. I am part of a generation of South Africans born into this complexity. This complexity is also what makes me uniquely able to lead a DA that wants to talk honestly and with compassion to all South Africans, but especially to the people who exist in these two worlds.
“I am at ease in any community in South Africa and feel fundamentally that for the DA to grow and move forward and win elections, it needs a leader who is able to bring people together from different backgrounds to build a South Africa that works.
“We also need to acknowledge that 26 years after apartheid, the promise of South Africa has yet to be realised. Our country is in an economic crisis. We have record high unemployment; inequality is at its worst level ever. There are millions of South Africans for whom democracy has meant the ability to vote but not the ability to build a better life. This lack of opportunity touches every facet of our country.
“South Africans are patient. But their patience is running out. Soon, if we do not arrest the economic decline, our country will turn to populism. We cannot allow that.
“We must expand opportunity and build a country where everyone has access to the ladder of economic opportunity so that 25 years from now, no one is the first in their family to go to university; a country where people have jobs; a country where people have roofs over their heads and can afford to feed themselves and their families; a country where the fruits of democracy are not just enjoyed by the few, but by all.”
She listed her activities and accomplishments in the party since joining it 12 years earlier, including building branches “where none had existed before … resulting in the party winning its first council seats in every municipality in [the Mkhanyakude] district in the 2016 local government elections”.
“In 2018, I resigned as an MPL to become provincial campaign director of the DA in KZN, where we were the only province to increase our election outcomes in number of votes, percentage, and seats won in the 2019 general election.”
She undertook to focus on the following issues if elected as DA leader:
1. Bring fairness back to the DA. If our members believe the organisation is fair, and everyone has a fair stake in it, we will find common ground. So too in South Africa. But we must internalise this as a party first. We must build a party where every member matters – where some are not more equal than others. Or those who shout the loudest get the biggest say.
2. Clearing up, once and for all, the confusion about who we are and what we stand for. That means the upcoming policy conference and congress is important. We must have the broader membership involved and part of that discussion. Every member is key in that process and we must make sure it has credibility.
3. Restoring confidence in the DA. It is cause for serious concern when South Africans lose faith in the DA because they know only the DA can save this country from populism and ruin. Our leadership must have the strength and credibility to win not only the minds, but the hearts of South Africans. We need a leader who has a vision that resonates with all South Africans. A leader who understands, and his lived, the realities of all South Africans.
4. Lastly, I want us to return the focus of the party to realigning politics in South Africa. We have to win again. We need to be the core of a new majority with people and parties who share our values so we can become the next government and make South Africa work.
“We can only do this If we can save the DA. Only then can we save SA. I am confident that at the Federal Congress, the delegates will do so.”
Last year MP John Steenhuisen was chosen as interim leader ahead of an elective congress taking place later this year in May, following a policy congress in April.
Other high-profile resignations included federal chairperson Athol Trollip and Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba. All three departures came in the wake of the triumphant, controversial return of Helen Zille to the top of the party as the federal executive chairperson.
Speaking to eNCA after her press conference, she was critical of Zille’s actions on social media, particularly her tweets on colonialism.
Ntuli said that even if a view had “some academic merit”, it should not be pursued at all costs if it was not benefiting the party or growing it electorally.
(Compiled by Charles Cilliers)
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