Cape Town - Lindiwe Mazibuko, the DA’s parliamentary leader for almost three years, said quitting active politics was one of the “radical decisions” she had taken to pursue personal growth.
But she remained committed to the party, according to her letter to caucus colleagues.
She’s swopping her seat on the opposition benches in the National Assembly for a Master’s degree at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government.
“I am conscious about my own future and my personal goal, which is to form part of the team that will lead our country in a direction that will truly fulfil its potential,” Mazibuko, 34, wrote.
“In order to do that, I have had to make some radical decisions about my personal development, even if this may disappoint my party and the many South Africans who have supported my rise to the position of DA parliamentary leader. This is the right decision, and I am hopeful that my supporters in the DA and in South Africa more broadly will see that too.”
Mazibuko told DA leader Helen Zille of her decision on Saturday, after it became clear that the DA had boosted its support to 22.2 percent in the May 7 elections, up from 16.6 percent in 2009.
Her letter to the parliamentary caucus was also sent on Saturday.
Emphasising that she remained a “committed member and supporter” of the DA, Mazibuko said she was excited about “the abundance of talent (in the organisation) which reflects the diversity of the people who lent us their votes”.
But for now Mazibuko would cheer her party on from the sidelines.
“When the time is right I will return to South Africa to pursue the goals that I have always set myself, but from which I have now chosen to step aside. I am under no illusions about how difficult this may be, and I expect no favours from the DA in this regard.”
Mazibuko promised she’d return with new ideas and energy to play her part in the DA’s future growth and building South Africa’s growth.
“It is clear that the DA’s offer to the people of South Africa is increasingly gaining support. The project of growing a national government-in-waiting, boldly started by Tony Leon and masterfully enhanced by Helen Zille, is on track. Now, more than ever before, it is evident that the DA will form the backbone of the movement – in whatever form it will take – that will win power from the ANC.”
Mazibuko said she had taken heart from having been able “to inject the dynamism and innovation of youth” into a talented caucus.
“Parliament today is a more vibrant institution for debate and holding the government to account than it was three years ago,” she wrote.
Lindiwe’s ups and downs in politics
Mazibuko was the DA’s shining star as she rose through the ranks of power smoothly and quickly – but her ascent was not without its nasty moments.
In 2011, she beat Athol Trollip in a tight race to become the DA’s parliamentary leader – and the country’s fourth youngest parliamentarian.
While in the position, she gained a reputation for being a fierce debater.
She also bore the brunt of personal assaults levelled in the National Assembly, as the ANC members of Parliament made jabs about her weight and dress.
The ANC’s John Jeffery said: “While the Honourable Mazibuko may be a person of substantial weight, her stature is questionable.”
ANC deputy chief whip Nkhensani Kubayi accused her of “reversing the gains of women in Parliament” over a dress that the party claimed was too “casual” and “inappropriate”.
The SACP called Mazibuko a “disrespectful kid” in a statement, and Julius Malema famously refused to debate with her, calling her a “tea-girl”.
Another lowlight was her clash with party leader Helen Zille over the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. Mazibuko said earlier this year that the two had a volatile relationship and argued often.
But she emerged from the gauntlet of Parliament looking like a princess in a Kat van Duinen gown at the State of the Nation address earlier this year, and seemed relieved to be attracting praise for her fashion choice.
In February Mazibuko was admitted to a Cape Town hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery.
Her mother, June-Rose Mazibuko, said at the time that her daughter’s condition had been serious, but not life threatening.
Reactions on social media have been mostly positive to her announcement of putting politics on hold to study at Harvard. - Additional reporting by Chelsea Geach.