Mbali Ntuli’s intention to contest for the highest office in the Democratic Alliance is a pivotal moment in the maturity of South African politics. At face value, it would appear that a candidate of her race and gender is not new in the political landscape. Yet, upon closer inspection, Ntuli is uniquely placed to capture the hearts and minds of a population which finds itself oscillating between a place of perpetual despondency and political exclusion.
Although her campaign seeks to restore the DA as a viable alternative to the ruling ANC, she has a unique opportunity to resurrect the vote of marginalised groups such as women and the youth.
Her trump card in the leadership contest may be her ability to restore confidence in the party’s commitment to diversity. As a short-term goal, it is appropriate because it is a clearly defined solution that may improve the party’s public approval ratings. Yet, from a long-term perspective, it limits Ntuli’s potential and growth trajectory in terms of the larger political discourse.
As a black woman who has been active in politics since her time at the helm of the DA Youth she has not only proven that she is committed, but that she has the gumption needed to survive. In the face of increasing complexity and uncertainty, commitment and survival are important characteristics, because they imply that an individual can stay the course, no matter the climate.
Political life requires a high level of dynamism, which serves to assure the public of one’s ability to adapt. Ntuli’s adaptability will be tested after the outcome of the federal congress in May to elect the party’s new leadership, should she emerge victorious. She will be required to toe a deeply entrenched party line, which is essentially at odds with the vision and mission of her campaign.
If she is unsuccessful, she would need to adapt to the possibility of being shunned by the party for confirming its selective approach to diversity. In light of her ability to survive, Ntuli has more to gain from the second scenario where, with a tight and long-term political strategy, she can set herself apart from the list of black DA leaders who have been relegated to political oblivion.
Ntuli and her team must seek to create a political persona that appeals to women and the youth by highlighting her work and successes over the years. Her message must amplify her vision for a South Africa that is in tune with the struggles of these groups and put forward viable policy strategies. By placing the struggles of women and the youth in the middle of her political growth strategy, she will have the unwavering support of a large population that is looking for two things: a call to action to organise and an apolitical conduit for political participation.
Ntuli’s story is a South African one, which speaks to resilience, strength, opportunity and raw ambition. These qualities speak to the deep fibre of what makes us who we are. It would serve her well to amplify key moments in her life to not only increase her relatability, but also encourage her target audience to believe that South Africa is still the land of possibility.
As a country fatigued by political complexity, Ntuli presents an interesting opportunity to encourage political participation of a new kind. Her youthful vigour and energy have the potential to usher in an era that resembles 1956 and 1976, when women and the youth took it upon themselves to challenge the status quo. The conditions for a seminal political moment in South Africa are ripe and merely require a fearless leader with a resolute vision.
Shamiso Nomsa Hlatshwayo is a freelance political risk and public affairs consultant