Johannesburg -The long knives are out for DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, with even former key lobbyists conceding she could be removed after next year’s general elections. Described as arrogant and autocratic by members in the caucus, senior party members this week rued what they described as her poor leadership and management style.
Mazibuko’s office was not available to comment this week.
After a bruising contest in which she went head to head with respected veteran DA MP Athol Trollip for the position, largely splitting the caucus, Mazibuko now faces serious challenges from inside her own party, in addition to the regular fire she comes under from the ANC.
Senior DA MPs told The Sunday Independent this week that many of them would not be re-applying for their positions when the fifth democratic Parliament is formed after next year’s polls because they felt sidelined by the party leadership.
“She’s very young, she’s not very self-assured or very confident of herself, and so these are a bad mix of ingredients because everyone else becomes unsure and unstable,” said one senior MP, who asked to remain anonymous because he could get into trouble for speaking outside of the party.
“That is the principle in place. So everybody is unable to take leadership and everyone is holding back. There are people there who are politicians for the future – that’s their primary occupation.”
The MP, who was one of the 60 who fell victim to Mazibuko’s controversial reshuffle shortly after she was elected parliamentary leader, said many members of the caucus were deeply unhappy.
Another caucus member, who also asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said there was a “big, big difference in styles of managing the caucus” between Mazibuko and her predecessor, Trollip.
“And I would say it comes with experience and age. In my personal experience she’s a bit autocratic. It’s an approach of ‘I’ll do it. You can be with me, but I will do it’,” he said.
The bruising defeat of Trollip, credited in large part to the public endorsement of Mazibuko by party leader Helen Zille, caused big divisions in the party, with persistent rumours of intimidation of supporters of Trollip.
This week, disgruntled members again complained about Zille’s involvement in the leadership race, saying her conduct was inappropriate.
But it appears the reshuffle Mazibuko executed at the beginning of last year, during which 60 of the caucus’s 66 members were moved from their portfolios, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Many said they were unhappy with the moves because people with expertise in specific areas were moved to portfolios where they had no experience and little expertise, if any.
The decision to move Lourie Bosman from his position as spokesman on agriculture, forestry and fisheries to the position of deputy higher education spokesman, for example, was cited by several seasoned MPs as an example of bad decision-making by Mazibuko.
Some described Bosman’s removal as plainly a “slap in the face”.
Bosman had served in several senior leadership positions in the agricultural sector before being sought out by Zille to join the caucus.
This week he told The Sunday Independent that his removal from the agriculture portfolio was the most “humiliating experience” of his life, recalling how Mazibuko had told the media the move was based on his performance with the portfolio committee on agriculture.
“That was a portfolio I was comfortable in, one I had years of experience in. I was familiar with what the issues were, and could convince ANC people of what was needed and how to take the portfolio forward,” he said.
One of the MPs The Sunday Independent spoke to, said the police portfolio was another area where they had a number of questions about Mazibuko’s decisions.
One said while MP Dianne Kohler Barnard was “good” as spokeswoman on police, former Western Cape provincial police commissioner Lennit Max was wasted as deputy spokesman on correctional services.
Former spokesman on finance, Dion George, said there had been some unhappiness in the caucus at the time of the reshuffle because some people were brought to Parliament specifically because they brought a special skills set.
George, who is now the DA’s spokesman on the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), said he was “a little shocked” at the time of Mazibuko’s reshuffle of the shadow cabinet, although he was happy in his new position now.
“I hoped I would stay at finance… At the time people said it was a demotion for George, but it it’s been an opportunity to learn more. If I had a choice, I would like to stay there (at Scopa),” he told The Sunday Independent.
“But I must say very emphatically, I really do enjoy working on Scopa. The difference is that finance is a very technical portfolio. I didn’t find (the portfolio committee on finance) highly political – the debates are mostly technical. It’s either right or wrong.”
“People say some portfolios are more senior than others, but in the DA we don’t operate in that way. Everybody has a valid role to play,” he said.
One of Mazibuko’s former backers, who asked not to be named because he is uncomfortable talking about internal party matters, said he believed she has served with distinction as parliamentary leader.
“I happen to believe she is good at her core responsibilities,” he said.
But he conceded the only reason she was likely to be re-elected next year was because there were no other candidates to take the position, especially given Trollip’s return to the Eastern Cape, where he is leader in the province, earlier this year.
He hoped she was heeding the grumblings about her leadership among members of the caucus, adding that Zille was aware of the problem and was likely to have spoken to Mazibuko about the issues.
But another loyal supporter of Mazibuko, who asked to comment anonymously, said under Mazibuko’s leadership there had been a “dramatic turnaround in the performance of caucus, both in Parliament and in the media”.
“Not only does Lindiwe’s front bench consist of a diverse groups of experts who have proven themselves in raising the profile and relevance of their portfolios, but it’s important to note that the main supporters of Athol Trollip’s campaign make up an important part of that front bench,” the backer said.
He said the caucus was united and enjoying the benefits of a new training and development programme.
“The relevance of Parliament has been significantly enhanced by Lindiwe and her activist chief whip Watty Watson. Recent months have seen Parliament positioned at the centre of South African politics with debates of public importance on Marikana, Guptagate and the tragedy in the Central African Republic, and the past parliamentary term culminated in the firing of the ANC chief whip ostensibly because he was unable to remain effective given the pressure from the DA leadership in Parliament.”