Battle for Federal Chair
Who will lead party into next year’s general elections remains a thorny question
The DA’s federal congress kicks off in Tshwane today, where a new executive will be elected to lead the party into next year’s general elections.
More than 2 000 delegates from around the country will gather at the Tshwane Events Centre over the two days, marking the DA’s biggestever congress since its formation.
While the position of DA leader, held by Mmusi Maimane, will be uncontested, the race for the federal chairperson post is set to be a tight contest.
Current chairman Athol Trollip, who is hoping to retain the position, is up against Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga and MP Annelie Lotriet for the coveted post.
Eight of the nine provincial leaders have openly pronounced on whom they would be supporting, while Mpumalanga leader Jane Sithole has decided to play her cards close to her chest.
Leading a small delegation of 55 delegates to the conference, Sithole said: “I’m keeping my cards to myself. Mine will be a surprise.”
While the branch and councillor delegates are not compelled to vote for whomever their provincial leaders support, their bosses have significant influence in swaying their decisions.
Leading up to the congress, there has been a strong call for a more racially diverse leadership structure of the DA.
This, DA Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela believes, is insincere.
He says the team elected in Port Elizabeth three years ago was “a very diverse team in terms of race, gender, skills”.
Madikizela, who leads the biggest delegation of 616 voting delegates, has endorsed Trollip, saying he is competent and committed to the values of the party.
“Anyone who claims the party is not diverse and not committed to transformation is disingenuous. Our internal systems that we’ve put in place are working to achieve the diversity we need.
“I reject quotas because they undermine our democratic principles and reduce black leaders to tokens.
“Diversity is not just about the substitution of every white person with a black one, it's about striking the balance and making sure that we are a party that reflects the country's demographics – also ensuring that we are truly diverse in terms of race, gender, interest groups and skills.
“That's why I’m voting for Athol Price Trollip to retain his position as the federal chairperson,” Madikizela said on his Facebook page.
He added: “Some people say Athol is a bully. That might be true. But no one can question Athol's competence and commitment to our values and principles.”
He is joined by Jacques Smalle, leader of Limpopo, Joe McGluwa, of North West, and Nqaba Bhanga, leader of the DA in the Eastern Cape, in his support for Trollip.
Smalle, whose province will be represented by 38 voting delegates, said his decision was spurred by his experience, having worked closely with Trollip, whom he described as a person of integrity.
“We need a strong person that can stand hard and protect our values,” Smalle said.
McGluwa echoed his sentiments, also highlighting that Trollip was a man who stuck to his values and principles. Bhanga previously explained his decision, saying Trollip’s work over the years was a testament to the fact that he was a credible candidate.
“He is an independent thinker and outspoken, and we need that kind of leadership at a national level . . . You don’t change people for doing well. You change them for not doing well,” Bhanga said.
Meanwhile, the provincial leaders backing Msimanga for the position – Zwakele Mncwango (KwaZulu Natal), Patricia Kopane (Free State) and Andrew Louw (Northern Cape) – believe he is a humble leader who will be able to unite the party.
They also highlighted that he was doing a good job in holding a coalition together in Tshwane – a skill which would be required should no political party emerge with an outright majority in next year’s general elections.
Kopane, who will lead 64 voting delegates from her province, said: “Solly is one of the people who grew up in the ranks of the DA.
“Also, given the fact that we believe the country will be run by a coalition after the 2019 elections, he has shown that he is capable of running a government with other parties. In government, you have to make sure that the work is being done and he’s doing his job with humility and Kopane said.
Louw, who will lead only 22 voting delegates from his province, said Msimanga was young and energetic. “The time is right and he is ready.
“We need someone who will keep unity in our party with such diversity,” Louw said. he’s hardworking,”
Mncwango said Msimanga was able to properly engage people and lobby other parties.
“He’s shown stability in Tshwane . . . He’s able to negotiate and manage a coalition, which will be necessary if we get into a coalition across the country.”
Mncwango will lead 194 voting delegates from his province.
Meanwhile, Gauteng leader John Moodey – who previously said he would support Msimanga in all his endeavours – is now backing Lotriet. The number of Gauteng voting delegates is 543.
Moodey explained he would back Lotriet because she did not have the “huge responsibility” of leading municipalities.
“She is a very talented person with good qualities and I believe she can give her undivided attention to the job,” Moodey said.