Durban - DA youth leader and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli is the latest member of the party who several sources say was sidelined by its leader, Helen Zille.
Zille has previously said “critical” engagement was encouraged – but several senior members in the DA say the liberal party is instead beset with increasing levels of paranoia and secrecy.
Several DA spokespersons deny this.
“People can speak out. There are all sorts of… caucus meetings – different structures for different caucuses. Fedex (federal executive) is a smaller structure – and there’s also Federal Council,” DA spokeswoman Phumzile van Damme said.
“So there isn’t a culture a fear of, of silence. Everyone’s free to raise their voice about any issues concerning.”
Ntuli resigned last week as youth leader – officially to spend more time focusing on her deployment to Mkhanyakude, in northern KZN near the Mozambique-border.
Mkhanyakude is a former IFP stronghold.
But Ntuli told The Sunday Independent she was ambivalent about the prospect of being deployed to the area.
DA politicians and colleagues close to Ntuli told The Sunday Independent that KZN DA leader Sizwe Mchunu said they were being deployed across the province into regions where MPLs and MPs could make grounds against the ANC.
The ANC has gained ground in former IFP strongholds in the province – but the DA has also made progress in KZN – and the fierce contestations for the 2016 municipal elections is being waged already by most political parties in preparation for this.
“Because the leader of the party has the prerogative to (effect deployments) it leaves no room for appeal,” one KZN DA leader said.
“For Mbali this situation was untenable. As a youth leader she was out of the province three times a week. She also has to attend to her duties as an MPL so this posting in Mkhanyakude was going to make her life a living hell,” he said.
The decision to deploy Ntuli to northern KZN is understood to have been decided while she was overseas on a US government-sponsored fellowship, as a Mandela-Washington the YALI (Young African Initiative) fellow.
But Mchunu had already decided that she would be deployed to areas “where the DA sees strategic growth”.
Ntuli has pushed back writing a letter to the DA whilst overseas, motivating that she should not be sent to Mkhanyakude, however.
The letter is understood to have cited reasons for her preference to work in KwaMashu and Ntuzuma – but the DA refused.
“Mbali felt that even when she was still an eThekwini councillor, she enjoyed no protection from Sizwe and Haniff (Hoosen) the provincial chairman,” the same DA leader said.
“It is known in the DA that she is being set up for failure by being sent to a far-flung area where she knows no one.”
Sources said Ntuli is “filled with fear at the prospect of being sent to Mkhanyakude, an environment with several intricacies politically”.
She denied this when contacted.
“I will go to Mkhanyakude because I’m not scared of hard work and I’m not afraid of new challenges,” she said.
She refused to entertain further questions or confirm the e-mail sent to Mchunu in June protesting about her imminent deployment.
And she was left with no choice but to resign from her position as youth leader after it became clear she could neither challenge, reverse the decision of the provincial leader or balance her busy schedule with the new designation to Mkhanyakude.
Her resignation though also followed after she was systematically blocked from attending a Fedex meeting scheduled for June.
Mchunu denied there were conflicts between him and Ntuli saying “in fact we are best friends”.
He said whatever decision they are taken by a collective through relevant structures using internal democratic process.
“I really do not know where all these allegations come from, but obviously there’s an agenda here. Understandably we are going to a provincial conference soon and you are bound to have these things cropping up. Why would you never hear of this between conferences, but just close to the conference?” said Mchunu.
“I asked them to critic me, I laid myself down with an understanding that there are no permanent leaders in the party, we all get elected, but of course your sources will never tell you this. Why are they faceless because none of these issue they are raising came up in any of our structures. If they are true liberals they should speak freely,” he said.
Federal executive committee chairman James Selfe is also understood to have written to Ntuli, as well as at least two additional black Fedex-members at the end of May informing them they should not attend a forthcoming meeting.
Selfe would neither confirm nor deny the email saying that Fedex meetings were confidential.