DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.

Politics is a messy business at the best of times, especially when you are a party boss. This week Lindiwe Mazibuko, just over two months since her election as the DA’s parliamentary caucus leader, shuffled her shadow cabinet.

She has played it safe, carefully placing her key opponents in her race against Athol Trollip in some key portfolios, but overall it is her winning faction which got the greatest pickings. Trollip takes on rural development and land reform, a post she herself held.

David Cameron, now the British Prime Minister, was elected Tory leader in 2005 against David Davis – who had won the first round caucus vote but fell behind Cameron in subsequent votes.

Like Cameron, Mazibuko parachuted to the job of leader of the parliamentary opposition and could appoint a shadow cabinet. Like Mazibuko, Cameron kept his main rival on board. Davis was named shadow home secretary and sometimes stood in for Cameron as Conservative leader when he was on leave.

However, by 2008 Davis – who had come so close to being leader of the opposition – quietly resigned as an MP. It may be a hint of what will happen to Trollip in the medium term.

It is an unfortunate unwritten rule about politics that good, and able, people like Trollip are unlikely to recover from a political defeat among their peers.

There are mutterings in the corridor that he will again take on Helen Zille, known to be a key architect of his downfall, for the national leadership of the DA.

The chances of him succeeding at ousting her appear – at least at the moment – rather slim, most significantly because the party is generally perceived to be on a growth spurt.

Among the biggest losers in the new shadow cabinet line-up is Dion George, a Trollip backer who was the shadow finance minister for the past four years.

He was moved downward – to shadow minister responsible for the standing committee on public accounts.

Another is Manie van Dyk, who slips from shadow public enterprises minister, to a minor portfolio of deputy spokesman for science and technology.

Van Dyk, another Trollip backer, faces disciplinary action for the alleged misuse of his travel privileges.

Van Dyk’s public enterprises deputy, Pieter van Dalen, who had a far higher profile than Van Dyk, was moved sideways to shadow deputy agriculture minister.

Lourie Bosman, a former AgriSA president who believes he had done an excellent job as shadow agriculture minister, is miffed at being shifted out of his position to become shadow deputy minister for higher education.

About 25 of the 36 in the shadow cabinet are Mazibuko supporters. The most notable rise in the ranks goes to Tim Harris, a new MP who becomes shadow finance minister.

Some heads have rolled and some silly appointments have been made, but Mazibuko has a certain leeway to move because the party is seen to be transforming its image away from being a white dominated party. It means the new shadow ministers will have to undergo a steep learning curve which may weaken the DA’s parliamentary performance in the short term. Mazibuko would argue that taking the party out of a rut may embolden it.

Even Masizole Mnqasela, who bitterly opposed her selection and has been accused by Zille of using “Verwoerdian” language in doing so, believes that her shadow cabinet team needs to be given a chance. - Donwald Pressly