Leadership terms, race hot topics for DA congress

Division over whether party bosses’ period in office should be extended With all eyes on the DA this week as it gears up to elect new leaders, members have been embroiled in heated debates ahead of the congress about whether or not to extend the term of the party bosses. There is also a strong call from some within the DA about the need for diversity within the leadership structure. These, among other proposed constitutional amendments, will be thrashed out at the DA’s congress which kicks off in Tshwane on Saturday. Yesterday, the majority of DA provincial leaders who spoke to The Herald said they believed the party should be more diverse and felt its “Fit For Purpose” slogan discriminated against members who were not fluent in English. In an article published in the Sunday Times, DA chief whip in parliament John Steenhuisen blasted moves to extend party leader Mmusi Maimane’s term of office and said doing so would make it difficult to hold the leader accountable. The newspaper reported that in the letter sent to delegates attending the congress, the chief whip also objected to proposed constitutional amendments seeking his removal and that of other DA leaders from the party’s national management committee, describing it as an attempt to centralise power which would be detrimental to the party’s system for checks and balances. DA KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango said there was merit in both debates with regard to the term of the leadership structure. “The five-year term allows a leader who’s been elected to take the party into two cycles of election without having to go through internal infighting,” he said. “This means Mmusi will be able to take us to the 2019 national election and after this, then you can talk about replacement. “It’s clear that some people want Mmusi to take us to the 2019 general elections and remove him. “There should be a clause that allows the removal of a leader should he or she be a bad one.” Mncwango said it was interesting that the MPs who were arguing that five years was too long were not arguing that their term in parliament should be reduced to three years. Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela said he did not see what the fuss was about on extending the term of office to five years as internal elections were costly and the DA should rather shift its focus to winning the elections.

“We can always decide at federal council to have elections earlier if the leadership doesn’t serve us well,” he said. “In PE three years ago, we elected a very diverse team in terms of race, gender, skills and geographic [area] with regard to provinces.” Madikizela said calls to amend the constitution to promote racial representation in the party were disingenuous as the DA’s “internal system that we’ve put in place is working to achieve the diversity we need”. “Diversity is not just about substitution of every white person with a black one,” he said. “It’s about striking a balance and making sure we are a party that reflects the country’s demographics.” DA North West leader Joseph McGluwa said he believed the “Fit For Purpose” mantra could be abused to exclude competent individuals on the basis of cultural, religious, race and ethnic backgrounds. “We must guard against this, which is why we must support the inclusion of a diversity clause in the DA’s constitution,” McGluwa said. DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga said whether it was three or five years, what was more important was electing a capable leader. The DA in the Eastern Cape was the most diverse and the DA nationally could learn a lot from what the Eastern Cape had done in terms of diversity. “We have all races in the party and we have the most diverse caucus,” he said. Northern Cape leader Andrew Louw said extending the term from three to five years would be a good move. Louw said it would be cost-effective. “This will mean that the period of accountability is fair and leaders will be given a fair chance to meet the objectives set upon them by the people,” he said. Diversity was an important issue for the DA, but it should be done with the understanding of building the party and not tearing it down, and when a person was appointed, it should be done on merit and not based on the colour of his or her skin. Patricia Kopane, the leader of the DA in the Free State, declined to comment and said she would express her views at the federal congress. DA provincial leaders Jane Sithole from Mpumalanga, Jacques Smalle from Limpopo and John Moodey from Gauteng could not be reached for comment