In what promises to be one of the biggest showdowns in the DA’s Eastern Cape ranks, the campaigns of two opposing slates vying for control of the provincial executive are in full swing.
But things took a turn on Friday when the DA’s national leaders announced that the elective congress, originally scheduled for two weeks’ time, would be postponed.
DA federal council chairman James Selfe said the party had acceded to a request from the provincial executive committee to reschedule it.
“We want as many branches as possible to participate in the congress, and extra time will allow this to happen,” Selfe said.
The congress has been rescheduled to May 5 and 6 and, for the first time in 15 years, the DA is going to have a new Eastern Cape provincial leader – a position held by Athol Trollip since 2002.
The battle lines were drawn last week, as the two candidates wrestling for power unveiled the teams they hope will curry enough favour with the branches to land them the top spots.
Both candidates, Bhisho MPL Veliswa Mvenya and Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Nqaba Bhanga, are said to have copious amounts of support.
They are ready to go head to head in the hope of leading the party towards its 2019 goal of winning the province from the ANC.
Mvenya joined the DA 17 years ago and has made strides in growing the party’s support in the rural parts of the province.
It is this kind of impact that many of her supporters believe the DA could build on if it were to dislodge the dominance of the ANC, especially in rural areas.
It is also the support base Mvenya is said to be banking on to garner enough votes to succeed Trollip. But she dismisses this, saying: “I have DA support all over the province, not just in the former Transkei.”
Bhanga only joined the party three years ago and some say he has not yet earned his stripes.
He said he joined the DA because of its commitment to “non-racialism, democracy and fairness” – values he “wants to see in this country”.
“I believe I can bring change that works for the party and the province,” he said.
Since joining the DA in 2014, Bhanga has played a key role in galvanising its support and is one of the key players who helped the DA clinch the metro. His team is made up of a number of DA heavyweights, although it has drawn criticism for consisting largely of Nelson Mandela Bay politicians.
“They are trying to centralise the leadership of the party around Nelson Mandela Bay,” one of the critics said.
In Bhanga’s team, fellow Bay councillor Andrew Whitfield will be contesting the chairmanship against colleague Gustav Rautenbach.
Veteran DA MPL Bobby Stevenson, from Port Elizabeth, and MP Chantel King, from Buffalo City, will contest the two deputy leadership positions.
Also, MP Yusuf Cassim, MPL Marshall von Buchenroder, both from the Bay, and Dr Beyers Naude Municipality councillor Samantha Jankovich will be vying for three deputy chairperson positions.
Meanwhile, under Trollip’s leadership, the number of DA councillors in the province has grown from about 80 in 2000 to 243 last year.
The party has also won two municipalities – Nelson Mandela Bay metro and Kouga.