Mbali Ntuli returns — in a different guise

By Phakamisa Mayaba / Following the results of the Democratic Alliance’s federal conference in 2020, I published an opinion piece in City Press that began thus: ‘It is now history that Mbali Ntuli’s Rhodes University degree could not prevail over John Steenhuisen’s matric certificate for the position of DA federal leader. This … the same party whose political yarn is spun around merit – not race – being the qualifier to better things.’

Just as he has done earlier this month with another leadership hopeful, Mpho Phalatse, Steenhuisen made a brisk meal of Ntuli. Questions swarmed in the wake of her defeat, with the media wondering what her next move might be. Would she stick with the party or go the way of Lindiwe Mazibuko and other black leaders who had become disillusioned with the DA, and severed their ties with it?

Around this time, the party was waving some astounding, if not ridiculous, views around. Race, according to them, wasn’t really a thing anymore. Therefore, they were adamant that race-based legislation of redress should be scrapped. Hinged on libertarian foundations, the party saw merit as the only surefooted instrument for improving the country and the lives of its people, millions of whom are either impoverished or unemployed. Needless to say, such obtuse, tone-deaf sentiments alienated everyone who so much as read about the brutal legacies of colonialism, apartheid and their legitimate offspring – white privilege.

Ntuli herself had had a rather strained relationship with the chair of the DA’s Federal Council and former leader, Helen Zille. Daughter of a self-made taxi mogul, ‘Big Ben’ Ntuli, Nbali was always going to struggle taking issues lying down. As such, she often fell out of favour with the DA ‘establishment’, particularly when she was critical about the direction the party was taking.

Following the leadership race, Ntuli slipped out of the limelight, resigning from both her office in the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Legislature and the DA. She announced that politics were clearly not a vehicle that would enable her to make a impactful contribution to society. For a while, except maybe for her social media followers, South Africans had little idea of what she was getting up to.

A new venture

Then on Tuesday 18 April, a year after her unceremonious departure, she popped up all aglow in front of the cameras to shed some light on her new venture. She is now the proud founder and CEO of the non-profit organisation Ground Work Collective (GWC). ‘As a public representative,’ said Ntuli, ‘I took seriously the job South Africans entrusted me to do. When I left active politics a year ago, I said I would go back to communities and work on the ground. This has always been most important to me. GWC is the result of this work.’

She continued; ‘Among the many things I was tired of when I left politics, the main thing was the political point-scoring across the board which seemed to erode our country of hope for real change. GWC is my way to try and re-kindle that hope.’

Through this initiative, the Rhodes University alumnus seeks to go back to the basic ingredients of all development: training, skills and education. ‘Even though South Africans want to make this country work,’ she said, ‘they have little idea how it actually works. In not understanding how things work, people do not know how to make the country and its politicians work for them.’

The core pillars of the GWC are:

  • Food Production
  • Skills Development and Entrepreneurship
  • Democracy and Civic Participation

On the first score, Ntuli wants people to have food security. This she hopes to achieve in the old-fashioned way; through home and community-based gardens, and providing the skills to make these viable through adequate training. She wants to see ‘increased entrepreneurial activity by young people to contribute to the socio-economic development of their communities.’

Food production is one of three pillars of the GWC.

Lastly, she is irked by how, owing to a generally depressing political climate, and a lack of knowledge among citizens about the workings of the country, swathes of people are no longer interested in casting their votes. Through rigorous civic education, she endeavours to give ‘citizens information on the system of government: the nature and powers of the offices: the principal economic, social and political issues facing the nation; the value of democracy: and how to utilise legislation to use their rights to hold political players accountable.’ She stresses that there is a marginal difference between voter and civic education, with the latter allowing for active participation rather than citizens being reduced to passive voting fodder every five years.

Grooming and supporting change-makers

GWC seeks to help change-makers who are sometimes hampered by lacking resources and without connections in their pursuit to improve their communities. The organisation will also see that expert mentors and personnel are made available to people on the ground. Moreover, they also endeavour to be the platform wherefrom marginalised and often forgotten communities are able to tell their stories.

Mbali is also passionate about home vegetable gardens. All pictures from the GWC Facebook page.

Ntuli’s media briefing was peppered with some poignant and valid quotables; ‘it is not enough,’ she declared, ‘to have elections, or that the electoral system is technically sound. Our history demands of us that after exercising our right to vote we must take responsibility for electoral outcomes – whatever they are – and ensure that elected parties and politicians honour their manifestos.

‘We cannot abdicate this responsibility. Nobody in South Africa can afford not be into politics anymore. I say this not to shame people who are rightfully overwhelmed at the circus that is our politics. But if we want to end this madness, it is going to require all of us to understand that whether or not you choose to understand politics, you are at risk of outsourcing decision-making to people who may be the least qualified to make them.’

Another statement that made for a good sound bite was: ‘Being political does not mean we have to be partisan.’ To this end, she was resolute that what most South Africans earnestly desire is the opportunity to uplift themselves. In the main, they are far from being loafers who only want government handouts. Instead, they seek the means to dig themselves out of the poverty and squalor that many find themselves in. Needless to say, Ntuli believes the GWC can help to create precisely those means.

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