Two prominent DA politicians with Eastern Cape connections explain to Grocott's Mail their opposing views on DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip's bid to finish his term - and the former Bedford farmer explains why he thinks he's the best person for the job. Prudence Mini listens to all sides of the DA's national leadership battle.
The DA's chief spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko has an impressive list of backers in her bid to unseat DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip mid-term - her latest endorsements coming from Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and Shadow Minister of Sport and Recreation, Donald Lee.
Mazibuko, viewed by her supporters as having what it takes to challenge the ANC in Parliament, is taking Trollip on with the aim of transforming the party, to attract young and black voters.
Trollip, on the other hand, the DA's leader in the Eastern Cape for 12 years, is described as having a wealth of experience in Parliament and as being responsible for a dramatic increase in support in the province.
Elected in 2009 as a parliamentary leader, he will be standing for re-election next Thursday in the DA’s first mid-term parliamentary caucus election.
Mazibuko is currently campaigning publicly to claim Trollip's seat and it has been reported that her supporters believe her "diversity card" has the potential to transform the party, making her a good candidate for the position.
Mazibuko's endorsements are growing, with the likes of De Lille and Lee adding to an impressive list that spans the provinces. In its struggle to change its image in order to capitalise on the growing number of ANC voters desperate for a political alternative, Lee believes Mazibuko is the right person for the job. In his letter of endorsement, a copy of which was sent to Grocott's Mail by Mazibuko's campaign managers, HWB Communications, Lee describes her as fearless, commanding great intellect and having performed excellently in the 2011 local government elections. He said he had no doubt that Lindiwe Mazibuko had what it took "to give the ANC a good klap in Parliament".
Lee, who is the DA’s deputy leader in the Eastern Cape and a long-serving member of the DA’s parliamentary caucus, said, "We are running out of time. We need a new parliamentary leader who is able to connect with more and more people who are becoming disillusioned with the ANC. I have no doubt whatsoever that the best positioned person for this is Lindiwe Mazibuko."
But Eastern Cape DA MPL and caucus chairperson, Veliswa Mvenya, says Trollip should be allowed to finish his term. "It's not as if he is underperforming," she told Grocott's Mail in a telephone interview on Monday.
Mvenya, originally from Butterworth, said she had known Trollip since she was a councillor in the Amatole district. She's been with the DA for 11 years.
"We grew the party together from two councillors to 16 councillors in my
constituency," she said.
She believes transformation in the party should not be forced.
"Mazibuko may be eloquent, but she should be given enough time to grow up to learn how Parliament works."
"This is not only about the DA, but the ANC as well," Mvenya said. She said that as a parliamentary leader, the elected person would work with the President and right now, Trollip was the best person to hold his own with President Zuma.
"We can't have a 31-year-old debating with the President, unless she was there in the previous term," Mvenya said.
Mvenya pointed out that Mazibuko's stated strength of being able to attract young and black people held no water.
"This is Parliament," Mvenya said. "It has nothing to do with attracting young and black voters and everything to do with debating in the house to lead a big caucus.
Donald Smiles, DA shadow deputy minister of basic education, told Grocott's Mail that he too supported Trollip, mainly because of his inspirational work in the Eastern Cape. In a telephone interview this week, he described Trollip as "a knowledgeable person through his experience as a provincial and caucus leader".
Trollip's great quality, Smiles said, was that he was a consultative leader and not an autocratic one.
DA leader Helen Zille has not publicly endorsed either candidate, according to her political assistant, Shaun Mossitt. It's uncertain whether she will do so before the election. Mossitt said Zille had, however, supported candidates' right to canvass for the election in the public realm. "National Parliament is a public issue, as a parliamentary leader plays an influential role," Mossitt told Grocott's Mail this week.
Trollip, who grew up in the Bedford district and farmed there for many years, said if he were re-elected, he would "continue to be loyal and dedicated DA MP to make sure to use every facility and lever to improve governance and governance performance, in order to improve South Africans' lives. I will continue to project DA as a viable and credible alternative government to ANC," he told Grocott's Mail in a telephone interview this week.
"Lindiwe has two things that I don't have. She is a woman and she is a black South African. Diversity does not mean you have to be a woman and black... it is not one single concept," Trollip said. He said the DA was a party for all races and said he didn't feel he had to concentrate on the fact that he was a white male and use it as a strategy for a position in the party.
"I am an incumbent leader. I have served 17 years," adding that 12 years were served as a leader in the Eastern Cape province. "That to me is a very strong attribute that counts in my favour.
"I have led the biggest DA caucus ever. I have done better than ever. Helen Zille has acclaimed my leadership in public."
Trollip said the challenge of leading such a big caucus was that despite its being a big team, he managed to give everyone a chance to express themselves. It was this leadership style, he said, that had allowed Mazibuko to shine as a household name.
Trollip spoke about his campaign strategy, which is aimed at the internal caucus. He hinted that Mazibuko's public campaign, for what was essentially only 83 internal caucus votes, might be inappropriate. He said he had received verbal endorsements from some members of the DA parliamentary caucus.