James Selfe’s resignation opens up vital position in DA

The DA's James Selfe, right, with leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA
The DA's James Selfe, right, with leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA

James Selfe’s resignation as chair of the DA’s federal executive opens up one of the party’s most powerful positions to intense lobbying as the party, still smarting from its setbacks in the May elections, looks for a successor.

Selfe has served in the position for more than 19 years and was elected uncontested at the DA’s previous congress in April 2018, in which a messy battle for the post was avoided, ensuring political stability ahead of the key May 8 general election.

Whoever holds the position effectively acts as the main opposition party’s political CEO, and the role is effectively equivalent to that of the ANC’s secretary-general.

Selfe’s resignation from the post will come into effect in October. It follows a bruising election result in which the DA’s support dropped nationally — it managed to hold onto its Western Cape stronghold but with a smaller majority — and failed in one of its key objectives, wresting control of Gauteng, the country’s economic heartland.

It is the second big shift in some of the DA’s key positions after the election, after it emerged late in May that the party’s national campaign manager, Jonathan Moakes, had resigned three months before SA headed to the polls.

Selfe will continue to chair the federal executive while the party’s review of all of its structures is completed ahead of the next federal council meeting in October, when it must be submitted to the party’s highest decision-making structure between its national congresses.

The review panel will be  led by the DA’s former CEO  Ryan Coetzee.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said on Sunday that Selfe would head a governance unit to monitor delivery by administrations run by the party.

"He will now be heading up our governance unit, tasked with supporting DA governments to ensure that they deliver better to citizens. This unit will require strong leadership to ensure that we accelerate delivery towards the next elections," Maimane said.

Asked whether he was approached with the idea, or whether he had proposed it, Selfe said it was a "joint product by me and Mmusi".

"We decided that it would be a useful way for me to employ my talents such as they are. And it was a very agreeable solution," Selfe said.

It became "abundantly clear" during the election that the DA governments played an "absolutely essential" role.

"I will be interacting closely with our mayors to accelerate service delivery to work, solve problems that people might have in the political management of the caucuses, to communicate our governments’ success, and I’m really looking forward to that."