Not easy to fill Mazibuko’s shoes

News that the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko will not be returning to Parliament likely led to a chorus of “I told you so” from many quarters, both within and outside the party.

At the time of Mazibuko’s election to the position of DA parliamentary leader, it was not only those with a personal stake in the race who made clear their opinion that she was too young and inexperienced for such a senior position.

Assessments of how she acquitted herself in this post vary, once again in no small part due to DA internal politics.

Some feel that she did exceptionally well, and gained the trust and support of her fellow MPs to such an extent that she could count on them to support her in a mooted showdown with Mmusi Maimane – reportedly Helen Zille’s choice to lead the party in the new

Others point to the fiasco that was the DA’s vote
in support of controversial new BEE legislation,
which saw Zille having to step in to try and repair the damage.

At the end of the day, Mazibuko probably did as well as she could have under the circumstances. She was, after all, a young and inexperienced MP facing off against wily veterans.

But is this level of performance really in the best interest of the DA, and the country in general? Whichever party one supports, the fact remains that strong opposition in the legislature is good for democracy overall.

We can’t know what exactly went through Mazibuko’s mind when she decided to take up the offer
to study at Harvard in the US for a year, instead of
continuing to represent the official opposition in

Taking part in the prestigious Masters in Public Administration programme is a great honour and opportunity, as Zille also pointed out in her reaction to Mazibuko’s decision.

But what are we to make of the fact that Mazibuko told the Sunday Times about her plans before she informed her party leader?

The position of parliamentary leader, one could argue, is too important to serve as a  testing ground for young leaders.

The DA has been quick to deny the accusation that it is overly concerned with attempting to appear more “black”, but the meteoric rise of both Mazibuko and Maimane makes it difficult to not agree with this

Is Maimane now practically guaranteed the position formerly held by Mazibuko?

If this is the case, it will be another big gamble on the part of the DA. Maimane has no parliamentary experience. While he would naturally be able to rely on the party’s parliamentary veterans for advice and support, there is no substitute for the real thing.

Polished campaign speeches and a talent for making the best of photo opportunities do not translate into being able to juggle the myriad tasks and responsibilities that would fall upon Maimane’s shoulders.

The party would be well advised to consider the
wisdom of their current strategy of fast-tracking young members into the most senior leadership positions.

Placing too much pressure on these leaders may not only mean that they fail to perform to the level expected of them, but that they miss the opportunity to develop and learn at a more natural pace.

The latter approach would mean that they would indeed be ready to take up senior positions in a few years’ time, instead of perhaps burning out and even being permanently stifled in their growth.

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