In August, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Mbali Ntuli stepped down as the party’s youth leader. Despite her resignation – which was accompanied by rumours that she resigned because of her strained relationship with party leader Helen Zille – she remains an influential leader of the DA’s “black caucus” – what the media refers to as a group of popular black leaders within the party that includes the likes of former parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko.
The federal chairperson of DA Youth from May 2013, her resignation is perhaps the last in a string of events that exposed her tense relations with Zille. Most notably, Zille launched an attack on Ntuli in January 2014 following a spat between the two at the party’s federal executive meeting because Ntuli publicly disagreed with the DA’s decision to march to the ANC’s Luthuli House on social media.
Zille later told the Sunday Independent that Ntuli owes the organisation an apology, “I certainly do not owe her an apology. On the contrary, she owes the DA one. But it is another example of the kind of behaviour I describe to view oneself as a victim when people say the things that need to be said.”
Ntuli – recently ranked as one of Top 40 Power Women by Destiny Magazine – remains a DA leader and a member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature.
Live Magazine caught up with her to discuss her views on liberalism, youth politics and the future of politics in South Africa.
“Look, the thing with this whole thing is that not everybody needs to be best friends,” Ntuli said speaking on her strained relationship with Zille. She also admitted they have had their fair share of disagreements but said at the end of the day they are “just colleagues.”
The DA has always proclaimed itself as representing liberal politics within South Africa and liberalism is an ideology that Ntuli feels very strongly about. Liberalism is a political philosophy founded on the ideas of liberty and equality for all, and supports ideas such as free trade and civil rights. There are many interpretations of liberalism, but at its core it is associated with equal opportunity and equality for all. For the DA and Ntuli, liberalism underpins their proposals that the state create the conditions for alleviating things like poverty and unemployment, rather than government lead the fight itself.
“I support liberalism because it is a philosophy which allows individuals freedom of choice but at the same time with freedom comes responsibility and there’s boundaries,” she explains. Pointing out the SACP’s rhetoric, she elaborates further, “A lot of people confuse what liberalism is. Organisations such as the SACP for example talk of a neo-liberal agenda which I’m not to sure if they themselves know what they are talking about.
“Some people view liberalism as a threat to their customs and culture, they see it as a white idea when in actual fact, all it really is a human idea,” she adds.
Ntuli is a firm believer in liberal politics and she believes liberal politics ties in well with smart economic policy. “Liberal politics are about individual choices and the same applies with its economic models. Liberal politics believe in competition and innovation. We cannot have certain corporations being denied competition, consumers need to be given a choice.”
Ntuli believes that liberalism can also change South African politics for the better and while she admits that we have a fairly liberal constitution, she has a problem with those in the positions of power to implement it’s statutes. “We don’t have a government to push it [liberal politics]. Liberal politics will ensure that real equality will be achieved and it will avoid things such as clashes of culture and gender violence,” she says. She believes liberalism could strengthen South African democracy and make it better for individuals.
As a prominent young person in South African politics, Ntuli knows the country’s youth needs to get more involved. There has been growing concern over the lack of engagement in politics by South African youth.
According to Independent Electoral Commission figures, among the 1.9 million young people aged between 18 and 19 only one in three registered to vote. Looking at all the youth affiliations in South Africa, Ntuli puts some of the blame for youth engagement on weak youth leaders “caught up in their own scandals and forgetting the people that they are supposed to be representing.”
Speaking on DA Youth she admits it needs improvement, but also says that it is the more authentic and diverse youth group in South Africa. “If you look at the work we have done through our campaigning, we were not just talking, we went out and actually got things done,” she asserts.
Out of 9 million people categorised as youth in South Africa, only 4 685 534 young people were on the voters roll, the rest decided not to register and vote. This is due to the fact that young people are disillusioned and feel like politics has nothing to offer them. According to the World Economic Forum Global Risk 2014 report released in January, South Africa has the third highest unemployment rate in the world for people between the ages 15 to 24.
Is this enough reason for youth to stay away from election processes and politics? Ntuli begs to differ. “If you don’t get involved you are doomed to be led by people that are inferior and less qualified. So if you don’t get involved prepare to remain unemployed, you will stay in the shack you stay in,” she says.
Ntuli stresses that young people should find passionate causes that will help their communities and not wait to be helped. She believes there’s still a long way to go in terms of youth having decision making power within political parties. “The Economic Freedom Fighters on the other hand have a lot of decision making power and that should be a lesson to us as young people,” she says.
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