Mbali Ntuli. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Mbali Ntuli. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The DA’s leadership battle has opened up with former DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli putting her hand up to lead the party after its early federal congress in May this year, saying she cannot watch the party “disappear into oblivion”.

Ntuli is a firebrand leader and prominent MPL from KwaZulu-Natal whose contentious relationship with DA federal council chair Helen Zille has been documented in detail over the years. Ntuli was originally charged internally for liking a Facebook post that called Zille a racist; the charge was later withdrawn.

Ntuli’s decision means she will go head to head with interim leader John Steenhuisen, who hopes to continue leading the party after the May congress.

The DA will first hold a policy conference in April, which will determine the direction the party takes going into its congress. This takes place a year before SA heads to the polls for local government elections in 2021.

It is also understood that Gauteng leader John Moodey is considering throwing his name into the hat, while it has been reported that Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela will also stand for the position.

The leadership position of SA’s official opposition party opened up when former leader Mmusi Maimane resigned from the DA in October last year, after the party resolved to go to an early congress.

Ntuli said in an internal letter sent to DA members and public representatives on Tuesday morning that she would only announce her decision publicly on Friday, but that she has decided to stand for the position of federal leader.

She said that if DA members were honest with themselves, they would know the party is in “deep crisis”. “We have suffered a series of losses, and there doesn’t appear to be any hope in sight that things will get any better soon.” 

Fear of reprisals

Citing, among other things, the knock the party took at the polls last year and in subsequent by-elections, as well as the loss of donors, Ntuli said that in any other organisation the broad membership would rise up against its leadership for such failures. However many in the DA are afraid to openly criticise the party leadership for fear of reprisals.

“My greatest fear is that many of our councillors will lose their jobs in the next election. I know that the majority of them are looking for other jobs to provide for their family. Every day I hear from our councillors about their fears of not getting re-elected. This is not because they did not perform, but because our party will not perform,” Ntuli said in the letter.

She said that just a few months ago the DA was focusing on winning governments, and now the party is in a permanent state of damage control. “We no longer plan to take over governments; we are planning to just hold on to our existing support base, and even that seems impossible.” 

She said that all members have a responsibility to make sure the DA is a party for the future that all South Africans can trust and make it one that “can actually win again”.

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