Q & A with Mbali Ntuli

At the age of 26 Mbali Ntuli has made significant strides in the political arena as an integral part of the Democratic alliance (DA). She is the first ever youth leader of the party which came about as a result of her active participation in university politics at Rhodes where she did her ungraduate degree. She is critical of party. She spoke about how conservative the DA is and added that there is not much power given to young leaders like herself within the party. “I have no problem [with being honest] why must I be spinning?”

What has constituted your political career thus far?

I started at Rhodes University, I started the DA branch when I was there. There was a massive scam where a lot of people who academically qualified weren’t able to get back into university and I thought that was really unfair, so I petitioned all the political parties to find out what they were doing about it. The DA was really the party that came back to me with any concrete plan to help students so I was impressed with that. I didn’t like the fact that they didn’t have a youth wing or a youth branch so I got in and opened the first active branch at Rhodes. When I graduated I went back to Durban and I started branches in various townships and eventually there were so many of us and we forced the party to give us a youth wing with different branches around the country. I am now the leader of the youth wing which is four years old.

Speaking of the different branches, why doesn’t DASO at Wits not have a presence?

We are only four years as a youth wind so for the first two years we weren’t really able to contest in SRC elections because resources were focused on starting up the branches. We got a lot of young people in first and second year to head them up but then they enter honours year and they are under pressure and they let the ball fall so it’s all about leadership. DASO Wits, because it’s such a huge university you need the kind of leadership that would be willing to mentor and groom but at the end of the day if you’re not going have that consistent leadership then they won’t have a presence and students shouldn’t vote for them, I wouldn’t vote for a party like that. Other Universities liaise better. But we are young so we are still consolidating the running issues.

How successful has the DA been in using middle class black people to appeal to masses?

Two things, the first, neither Lindiwe or Musi or I actually are upper class in terms of our background, my mom was a teacher and my dad was a taxi driver. We are just in an age where black parents work damn hard to get their children into middle class schools, I mean I work in Umlazi everyday giving them water, et cetera and they don’t a fuck what I sound like when I speak English as long as I’m able to help them. So I don’t think the DA got it wrong by sending people they thought would relate as long as they are authentic.

What do you make of the DA’s campaign?

Well I think the fact that we have grown in every election means that we are obviously doing something right. To be honest I think that this campaign has been different, 2011 was good, it was a positive campaign and People related well to our pervious campaigns. It’s weird but this year my party’s been pretty negative in this campaign and I don’t think its sat well with some of us because we wanted to focus more on ourselves than the ANC and this strategy doesn’t work. I mean you will get voters that are fed up with the ANC but you wanna get parties that vote for you and your party not because they voting against someone else. So I think the negativity puts people off, especially young people. But we have good policies that make us the main opposition and grow at every level but we could be doing far better. I do also think that parts of our campaign are very manufactured and slick and that’s cool coz it shows that we’re organised but it just need heart and a little eccentric which is different to the EFF because even though it seems to be chaotic they’re really on fire.

It’s interesting that you bring the EFF up, what are your thoughts on comments that the EFF could become the main opposition?

No, Well I like that the EFF has come onto the scene because it hasn’t left us to become apathetic as a party and take our voters for granted. I’m surprised about how well the EFF has done but I don’t think they’ve done well enough to take over as the official opposition.

What is like to be a party leader?

It’s fucking hard to run a political party that’s why we all have grey hairs and become mean people. It also depends on how successful you want your party to be you have to perfect the machinery and the constitutionality coz so much shit can go wrong. What we have at the DA is politics and operational, the separation of powers is important. I mean as a politician you can’t touch a cent of the party’s money and operations can’t be involved in politics.

How much of a platform are young people give to contribute to the running of the party?

I sit on decision making bodies that are the highest like the federal council but to be honest you need to have a lot of political capital to get stuff that you want pushed and I should technically be second after Helen but that’s not how politics works so it’s a balancing act and I think I don’t have a much power as I should as youth leader. So like the concert we had on Saturday, I said to them ‘we need to not fucking bore people, it’s a fucking concert and 35% of the songs were slow jams, like who the fuck wants to go and listen to that? So it’s not enough but I also have to work to build my own political brand and push the things that I wanna push, after this election it will be easier because I’m gonna be MPL [member of the provincial legislature].

The DA Agang marriage, how did that happen and how did it affect the DA?

Well what happened was that people [federal executive] thought that having Mamphela was a good idea for us to seem more reachable with a struggle icon who would be able to make people believe that the DA would never go back to apartheid which is a perception that people have had of us. I personally was very critical on Facebook, I don’t find Mamphela Ramphele inspirational, she’s incredibly boring and she’s not a politician. So I didn’t see how it was gonna work but sometimes you defer to majority vote, that’s democracy. It happened and it was a dismal failure from beginning to end. She didn’t communicate with her people, we didn’t make sure that we had had a conclusive written down agreement and so it was a fuck up. It was embarrassing especially after we did so well with our ID merger. Our loyalists questioned whether were were being principled and there’s nothing worse in politics when people question your principles.

How seriously are you taken as young as you are?

Most people, activists and members take me very seriously and that’s what matters more but I don’t think that some of our senior leaders take the youth as seriously as they should and there’s a number of reasons, ageism being one but I take great comfort in the fact that I’m probably going to outlive all of them so it doesn’t worry me so much now. But I’m also not the type of person who’s overly ambitious and prove myself. I’m very happy to take my time and learn and grow.

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