After a whirlwind win, a significant moment overshadowed by his mysterious absence, new DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga has his sights set on one goal – wresting control of the province from the ANC.
With only two years to go before the 2019 general elections, Bhanga plans to traverse every corner of the province – a traditional ANC stronghold – to convince the electorate to give the DA a chance.
Bhanga was elected provincial leader of the DA in East London at the weekend, along with six other members of the leadership team.
The rest of the team includes two deputy provincial leaders, Bobby Stevenson and Terence Fritz, provincial chairman Andrew Whitfield, and three deputy provincial chairmen – Yusuf Cassim, Kobus Botha and Marshall von Buchenroder.
Bhanga’s three-year term got off to a rocky start when he missed the announcement that he had won against Veliswa Mvenya and could not be located for at least an hour after he was meant to deliver his victory speech.
It is still unclear where Bhanga was, but he maintains he had been nervous about the responsibility and apologised for “messing up”.
He insisted he was a reliable leader who, with other members of the DA, was able to mobilise church leaders, traditional leaders and all walks of society to ensure a DA government was in place after the 2019 elections.
In the 2014 elections, the DA received 19% of the vote in the Eastern Cape against the ANC’s 70%.
Bhanga has instructed Whitfield to develop a turnaround strategy to mobilise rural voters and strengthen the party’s structures in those areas.
“Education of our activists is key to ensure they know what we stand for,” Bhanga said.
“We will build activists and our branches and we want society to see our branches as a support group for them.
“We are going to capacitate our councillors to prepare for 2019. We want to be a party of government.”
A lot of focus will be on the youth and luring young professionals into the party.
The provincial leadership would use the youth to guide and criticise them, and ultimately help the party to attract more voters, he said.
The new executive will embark on a listening tour to every branch in the province to get the “grassroots input” for the party’s 2019 and 2021 strategies.
“We are preparing for government – we want everybody,” Bhanga said.
“It’s going to be a very long road we are going to travel.”
He said his secret weapon was that he knew his opponents – having worked with those in charge of the ANC and EFF when he was still a member of the ANC.
“It came at the right time. I will defeat them,” Bhanga said.
“We are the only party that talks freedom, fairness and opportunity.
“Our politics is not populism. We do thorough research.
“The young, vibrant leadership is going to be a big contest for the ANC.
“I know our opponents and I will use that to my advantage.”
Whitfield said the party would develop mentorship and training programmes for activists and councillors, preparing them for government.
They would also reinvigorate and strengthen branches by consulting them on campaigns and policy.