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DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko danced with the man she displaced, Atholl Trollip, at a “breakaway” caucus held at Spier wine estate last weekend and party insiders suggested any residual tensions since Mazibuko took over from Trollip were fading.
Another view was that some MPs felt marginalised by a “clique” aligned to the new leadership.
There was agreement, however, that the breakaway had been positive. Several MPs who attended the event reported that the unhappiness in the party’s “old guard” with its new leadership appeared to be mellowing – although some said there was still a little “residual sulking”.
“Those who lost in the last election must just get over themselves,” said one MP.
While some refused to be drawn on the meeting, saying it was confidential, and others suggested there was still some “healing” that needed to be done in intra-party dynamics, most of those interviewed painted a picture of harmony.
This was the first breakaway caucus meeting to be held for the party’s new leadership after Mazibuko trumped Trollip in the race to be caucus leader with a majority of 50 to 31 in the party’s mid-term caucus election held in October last year.
Mazibuko’s campaign message was that she would bring renewal to the caucus and help transform the party to make it more attractive to black voters. Mazibuko then radically reshuffled the party’s caucus, leaving only six of the 35 members in their old portfolios, placing new faces in the finance, trade and industry, labour and economic development portfolios and keeping party stalwarts in police, justice, defence and correctional services.
She also consolidated the DA’s alliance with the Independent Democrats (ID) by giving ID MP Lance Greyling the energy portfolio and Haniff Hoosen the economic development portfolio.
Trollip was appointed in the portfolio he had given Mazibuko, as DA spokesman on rural development and land reform, prompting whispers that it was a tit-for-tat appointment following the robust contest between them.
Asked to comment on the caucus, Trollip had this to say: “We had a great breakaway and I enjoyed it.”
He declined to elaborate, saying: “I never talk about what we do in party breakaway meetings. The caucus has rules on confidentiality, which I respect.”
DA chief whip Watty Watson said the breakaway meeting had gone “very well”.
“It was a closed meeting. We hold these for every term of office,” he said.
“It was a team-building exercise, during which we looked at where the party is and at how we are fulfilling our task as the official party of opposition. We looked at areas of concern and jubilation.
“We looked at what has gone well for us in the past eight months and at what we need to attend to.
“We concluded that we are doing fine and that we want to continue the way we are going. Attitudes, co-operation and collegiality were at a high level,” he said.
Watson said no specific issues on party dynamics had been discussed.
“There were no issues of exceptional concern. We concluded that we are satisfied with what we are doing, but that we would look at some minor adjustments in our operation. We agreed that maybe one or two things internally needed adjustment, but I will not discuss that.
“The consensus was that, as an opposition, we are being very, very effective and that we must continue and pursue that and get even stronger.”
On Mazibuko’s leadership, Watson said: “There was no doubt whatsoever expressed that she is the right person for the job.”
He rebuffed suggestions that the party’s old guard still opposed her leadership.
“There is no old guard opposed to her. An election took place, the majority elected Lindiwe Mazibuko as leader and everybody accepted that we would work together. That’s what happens in a democracy.”
One MP, who asked not to be named, said the meeting saw “more and more people” coming out openly about issues that had arisen as a result of the many changes in the caucus.
“These included issues of people feeling marginalised and not feeling part of the main caucus. There is a feeling that there are people trying to run the caucus to serve a particular clique aligned to those who were elected last year.
“What emerged was that some members have not found direction from the parliamentary leader. Some felt she pays lip service to them – but said it would be more important for them to have more time engaging and debating issues of common interest.
“It was felt by some that we should be driving issues that come from constituencies in a consultative way, instead of someone pretending to know everything and instead of people steamrolling issues that send them into other people’s portfolios.”
The MP continued: “It was very healthy in that people spoke out, saying this is how I feel about my space in the caucus… and my contribution to the party. We are going through a healing process. We are talking. We were able to discuss how to work together going forward.”
Mazibuko was not available to comment as she was in Germany.
Safety and security spokeswoman Dianne Kohler Barnard said she felt the special caucus had gone “extremely well”.
“Helen (Zille) was there, Patricia (de Lille) was there – and Lindiwe’s leadership shone out in an amazing fashion. Lindiwe was dancing with Atholl – and with every man in the caucus. It was a great ice-breaker.
“It was a fruitful exercise. We dealt with small issues leading up to the next two elections. After all, that is what it is all about – driving forward and how best to do it. Lindiwe’s area of expertise is in strategic planning and in analysing the political landscape. I found it very positive and forward looking,” Kohler Barnard said.
“A lot of the residual tension left over from the election was broken down. Everybody looked for answers and solutions in driving the party forward… Hopefully the tensions from the election have been overcome. It feels like we are moving forward like a well-oiled machine towards the next election – and that’s the whole aim of the bosberaad,” she said.
Justice spokeswoman Dene Smuts had this to say: “These caucus breakaways occur with monotonous regularity every year – and are unremarkable in themselves. I don’t think anything is different It’s the same set of people who work together all the time. We went away for a weekend, as we drearily do, and nothing has changed.”