The resignation of Gwen Ngwenya as head of the DA’s policy unit has sparked renewed outrage at how the DA marginalizes black women. I’m not convinced this is what happened.
The women (like Mbali Ntuli, Lindiwe Mazibuko, De Lille) that she is being compared to stood for very different politics compared to Gwen’s. Those women were disruptive, seeking a transformational agenda that was unconventional for some in the DA.
Gwen Ngwenya exercises or believes in establishment politics, so much that she is much more conservative than some ardent liberals in the party. Has is a different and somewhat unique circumstance.
Gwen’s return to the DA and her subsequent swearing in as a Member of Parliament (a position she won’t resign) took even some DA senior members by surprise. She came in already married to a particular faction. The faction described by Adriaan Basson in one of his articles as "the laptop boys". She would, because of her research experience at the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) bolster the credibility and her being black with the politics she espouses was a massive bonus. The laptop boys are seen as the "liberal core" proponents within the DA and they are mainly opposed by "the Bruma boys" – those at Head Office closely connected to James Selfe.
Some people in the DA believes that the DA must embrace a much more race conscious and transformative political outlook in its election offering. Gwen Ngwenya and the laptop boys don’t believe in this.
If you read her resignation letter closely, you will realise that she suggests that she should have had a say in some of the decision-making structures of the DA, albeit her not being elected to them. That was an attempt at a backdoor entry into the party’s leadership structures and it failed. This for me is at the heart of the problem, not just that the DA isn’t serious or investing in policy development from within. Ngwenya and her entourage were hoping to grab power via the policy development unit and it didn’t materialize. Now they need to re-strategize.
It is for this reason that some in the DA have reacted to her resignation letter as setting the scene for a future leadership battle over the party and that she may throw in her name in the hat. The narrative they are cooking is that if the DA loses ground in the next elections Mmusi Maimane will have to resign as he would have failed as party leader. This would trigger an early conference for the election of a new leader and Gwen Ngwenya could very well be their candidate. So this in part suggests that Ngwenya is deliberately resigning now to start a conversation about the internal realignment of forces. Long before she returned to the DA she already knew that her stance on BBBEE was already out of sync with the evolving thinking in the DA. So it is quite opportunistic to cite that as a point of difference that is so fundamental.
What I see is a much bigger political plot – and she was frustrated deliberately, not because she is a black woman, but simply because she is a proxy for a political grouping and resourcing her would give her an untold advantage of crafting policy documents that could even challenge conventionally accepted consensus among the party leadership. Over time this would create an even more crippling effect in how society views the DA as it would appear (not that it is not now) a party at loggerheads with missing coherence on policy thinking and articulation.
This would have presented the policy development unit as a quasi-second centre of the party and a massive honey pot to oil the agenda of the laptop boys.
If anything Gwen Ngwenya is a victim of factional battles within the DA. Her faction is regrouping after a failed leadership coup and they want an early conference as they deem her resignation letter "a vote of no confidence in Mmusi Maimane".
Now get this, I have always thought of Maimane as a weak leader for the DA, but Gwen Ngwenya as leader of the DA? She would kill that party. Her politics are polar opposites with the South Africa we wish to build.
* Mnguni is a political analyst.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.