Gwen Ngwenya declines seat in Parly amid emerging ideological rift in DA

Outgoing MP does not want to discuss if she was 'pushed to leave'

Ngwenya declines seat in Parly amid emerging ideological rift in DA

16 May 2019

One of the leading neo-liberals in the DA, Gwen Ngwenya, has declined to take up her seat in the National Assembly against the backdrop of an emerging ideological rift in the party after its poor election results.

"I have decided not to take up my seat in the 6th Parliament. Before policy dev I worked in fintech, and I'd like to work now on issues at the nexus of tech and public policy. There are great people who will be on those benches and I wish the DA a successful term," Ngwenya tweeted on Thursday.

When News24 asked Ngwenya to elaborate on her reasons for not taking up the seat, she said she would conclude with the reasons provided in her tweet.

Asked if she was pushed to leave, she said: "I don't want to engage in a discussion."

DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the party thanked her for her contribution during her time in Parliament and wished her good luck on her future endeavours. He didn't want to speculate on her reasons for leaving.

He said to his knowledge, no other people on the DA's list had thus far indicated that they would not take up their seats. MPs will be sworn in on Wednesday.

In January, Ngwenya resigned as the party's policy head because she "does not believe that the party takes policy seriously".

However, party insiders told News24 at the time that there had been some unhappiness from the party leadership with Ngwenya in her capacity as policy head. There was also tension between the neo-liberal views Ngwenya holds versus the party's commitment to redress, given the realities in South Africa.

Responding to Ngwenya's tweet, former DA leader Helen Zille wished her well.

"So sorry to hear that Gwen. You are a huge loss to the team. But all the best in your future work," Zille tweeted. Zille's message was retweeted by her predecessor, Tony Leon.

Ngwenya is regarded as one of the more liberal members of the DA's caucus, which she joined in February 2018.

Before becoming an MP and the DA's policy head, Ngwenya worked as the Institute of Race Relations' (IRR) chief operating officer. The IRR is a libertarian think tank, funded by, among others, Anglo American and the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust. There was apparently unease in the DA that Ngwenya was establishing a "quasi-IRR" in the party.

In a letter to Maimane announcing her resignation as policy head, she wrote: "The bottom line is that I do not believe the DA takes policy seriously; and as a result, there has not been the operational or political resources necessary to result in a policy outcome I can be proud to be associated with."

Tension between the party's traditional liberal ideologues and the purveyors of realpolitik in the party is nothing new and came to the fore ahead of the party's federal congress in April last year, as the "diversity clause" was debated.

Just before the congress, the party was locked in a battle over the wording and intention of the contentious "diversity clause".

This after MPs Dr Michael Cardo and Gavin Davis wrote to party delegates asking them to reject the diversity clause in its then current form - which they argued could replicate quotas - and rather allow diversity to represent "diversity of thought" - the classical liberal view.

This tension is believed to be one of the fault lines in the current informal talks within the party about Maimane's leadership. Maimane apparently averted a mutiny when the DA's federal executive council on Monday expressed its "unambiguous" support for Maimane to remain leader "until a federal congress, scheduled for 2021 decides otherwise".

In a letter to party members, Maimane highlighted the importance of the DA occupying the centre in South African politics and warned against a "period of self-destruction".

In one of her more memorable appearances in the National Assembly, Ngwenya in November last year lambasted the EFF for the rising tide of fascism within its ranks, with the EFF's response to her doing little to disprove her point.