Battle for top DA job

The new DA chair of the federal council will be elected on Sunday. More than just a contest for a powerful position, it is a battle for the identity and future of the official opposition.

Trollip believes he hasenough support to win

Athol Trollip
Athol Trollip
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

Name: Athol Trollip

Age: 55

Current Position: DA federal chair

Trollip served as the Eastern Cape provincial leader for 16 years, was the party’s legislature caucus leader for more than 10 years, became a member of parliament, then was elected mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay before being ousted via a motion of no confidence tabled by the EFF.

A man who is said to rule with an iron first, Trollip is known for his stern demeanour but also for his decisive leadership.

To some, he comes across as a bully. But Trollip says this was a term used by members of the opposition.

“I’m strong on principle, not on people. Some who can’t or won’t differentiate [this] call me a bully. This is a term used by political opponents in and outside the party,” Trollip said.

A firm supporter of Trollip, DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga has described him as “an organic leader”.

“He believes in a one South Africa for all,” Bhanga said.

Trollip said he had contacted every single one of the about 150 delegates who will be voting on Sunday and answered their questions.

He believed he had enough support to win.

“I’m campaigning around three attributes that I believe make me the most suitable candidate.

“[These] are loyalty, dedication and discipline. These attributes have assisted me to build cohesive and united teams wherever I’ve led in the party before.

“We have become less cohesive, coherent and disciplined and [our] message [on] discipline is weak,” he said.

Trollip said the DA had a poor election outcome in the recent general elections.

But it is not the end of the world – or of the party.

“We will revive our current flagging fortunes because what was good enough for a record election in 2016 cannot now be bad.

“We need to regenerate a sense of team spirit because no-one is questioning our mission or our values,” Trollip said.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Trollip was a straight talker and disciplined.

“Those who know Athol Trollip will tell you that he is a straight talker. He’s not really well liked, which is one of the reasons he couldn’t hold on to the coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay,” he said.

“He is considered a principled politician where some would say he lacks a diplomatic attitude. He comes across as someone who understands the DA.

“Anyone who understands the deep end of Nelson Mandela Bay knows it’s very rough for the ANC because of Trollip.

“For me, when I look at all the candidates vying for the position, Trollip’s name is quite prominent. He’s the top person there,” Mathekga said.

Analyst Ongama Mtimka said he believed what gave  Trollip the edge was that he embodied the old guard in the DA, but was also more open to what the party could be.

“All the candidates are white, but it doesn’t absolve them of the thorny issue in the DA which is: does the party want to go back to liberalism or [embrace] social redress?

“The party must make a decision if it wants to attract the majority or if it wants to have liberalism to the point of not seeing colour – Trollip carries both,” Mtimka said.

Helen Zille as federal chair could be costly, analysts say

Former DA leader Helen Zille
Former DA leader Helen Zille
Image: Esa Alexander

Name: Helen Zille

Age: 68

Current position: Ordinary member of the DA

If the DA wants to retain its traditional support base, former party leader Helen Zille would be the person to vote for in the battle for the position of federal council chair on Sunday.

But this could damage the DA and any attempts to rope in the black voter in the long run.

These were the views of political analysts Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana and Professor Somadoda Fikeni, who believe that Zille could win the hotly contested race.

Other contenders are Nelson Mandela Bay councillor and federal chair Athol Trollip, deputy chair of the federal council Thomas Walters and deputy chief whip Mike Waters.

Ndletyana says the party had to be more vocal and decisive in its stance on affirmative action and BEE, adding that he was of the view that Zille was protective of white privilege.

“The very idea of her coming back signifies an attempt of trying to go back to the past, especially considering what her roles have been in the last year or two, especially her comments.

“She has come across as remarkably conservative, dismissive of racial issues and seeking to deny the saliency of race.

“The comments that she has been making stand in contrast with what Mmusi [Maimane] seeks to make of the DA,” Ndletyana said.

But Zille, who brings a wealth of experience at every level of the party and in government, says she has never left active politics.

She serves as branch chair of the Blouberg branch in Cape Town.

Should she win, Zille says she would change her leadership style and offer more support, especially as this was not a leadership role.

“The DA has been through a very difficult time. It needs unity of purpose, and stability in its systems and structures.

“We need to reconnect with our voters, and go for growth once more,” she said.

“I am good at translating a vision into a practical, implementable policy.

“I am also good at forging unity where there is division.

“I will support the leadership in doing all these things,” she says.

Ndletyana believes that Zille occupying the position could reaffirm the party’s traditional supporters.

“Her coming back is a return to the past and my sense is that the main thing is to retain the traditional support because that has always been tricky.

“If the party wants to go beyond the traditional support base they have to pay attention to issues that affect black people.

“In doing so and making that leap, they always run the risk of unsettling their traditional supporters because they will then have to speak about affirmative action and BEE,” he  said.

Zille’s views on colonialism and racism have previously caused social media outrage, with Fikeni saying this may have damaged the party.

“Ultimately, I think Helen and the manner she has treated things has caused a lot more damage, especially among  black constituents.

“They need to sit down and be honest about their situation and begin to build unity. Primarily, they must deal with the race issue,” Fikeni said.

Zille, a former journalist and a political activist in the Black Sash and End Conscription Campaign, is also the former premier of Western Cape.

Thomas Walters keeps campaign close to his chest

Thomas Walters
Thomas Walters
Image: Wikipedia

Name: Thomas Walters

Age: 43

Current position: Deputy chair of the DA federal council

A simple Google search will tell you about the various positions held by Walters — from member of the Gauteng provincial legislature to joining the National Assembly as an MP. 

You can even get a record of his attendance at committee meetings, which ranges between good and average.

But what you won’t find on the web is anything resolute about the man himself and what he stands for.

And he prefers it that way.

Refusing to give anything away about what he will be bringing to the table should he be elected on Sunday to replace James Selfe, who stepped down after holding the position for 19 years, Walters said: “I’m absolutely sticking to my principled position that I don’t campaign in the media”.

One assumes then that he is lobbying hard among the 150 delegates who will decide on the second in command.

But according to a colleague, it is not so.

“I think the real reason Thomas has taken this approach is because you can’t beat the profiles of Helen [Zille] and Athol [Trollip].

“Even with this debate that was supposed to take place, he is not the greatest speaker and he would’ve fallen short,” she said. 

So what is Walters like in the party?

“He is not a stellar MP and he’s not done anything noteworthy.

“But he does work on the ground; he’s competent,” the colleague said.

“He’s seen as being a good deputy — the guy to do tasks on behalf of someone.

“But nobody feels he’s a leader. 

“He’s a very nice guy, but he won’t rock the boat much.

“We’re all looking for a strong, decisive leader, especially with what the party is going through,” the colleague said.

Another colleague describes him as a strategist; a “moderate guy” who is not decisive but also not divisive. 

“He’s like a [Cyril] Ramaphosa type — he always wants consensus,” this colleague said.

“He’s a nice guy, accessible and can engage easily.

“He does not impose himself. 

“But I don’t think the DA needs that now.

“We need a decisionmaker and someone who will put the smear campaigns to bed.” 

Political analysts believe that, while Walters is on the back foot by going up against strong contenders, this might make him more attractive to members who do not want to be caught up in factional battles.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said it was hard to know what Walters stood for because he was running a silent campaign.

“I understand that parties want to say that their people know more about their parties than through the media.

“It’s not true because the knowledge people gain about parties and what they do is through the media.

“A lot of opinions people think they have about their parties is reaction from what has been published.

“I don’t know how he actually plans on running his campaign unless people are willing to take blind faith and say we’re electing him on the basis he is not known,” Mathekga said.

Analyst Ongama Mtimka said: “All the candidates have risen through the party ranks, but I couldn’t locate Walters on any of the ideological debates.

“The biggest contest is between Zille and Trollip, but the other two — Walters and Mike Waters — may be open to persuasion on the current politics of the DA and where it is likely headed.

“They represent the old guard who want the politics of the past and the DA of the past, but who are [amenable]”.

Party must go back to its ideological roots — Mike Waters

Mike Waters
Mike Waters
Image: Supplied

Name: Mike Waters

Age: 52

Current position: DA deputy federal chair

Driving a small Renault Clio, Mike Waters once visited all 45 child protection units in SA to highlight violent crimes against children.

A dogged Waters did this during his stint as the DA’s spokesperson on child abuse in 2002.

And it is that same unwavering tenacity to cover the basics that Waters wants to bring back to the DA.

“We need to go back to our basic principles and talk to people as individuals.”

After spending months on the road, Waters compiled a report that was debated in parliament.

“I am very proud of that,” he said.

“I am glad I did it.

“I did that all on my own.”

This debate led to then-safety and security minister Charles Nqakula adding 339 officers to units around the country.

Waters was vocally critical of the ANC’s decision to disband the amalgamated Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units in 2006.

He was also one of the first people in the DA to call out party leader Mmusi Maimane to clarify facts around a rented Cape Town house he had initially declared to parliament as his own and a Steinhoff-sponsored vehicle Maimane had continued using months after an accounting fraud rattled the firm.

He also confronted Maimane at the party’s federal executive meeting in September, demanding answers over the lease of the home from Durban businessman Wessel Jacobs.

The DA’s internal finance committee has since found no wrongdoing on Maimane’s part for the house and vehicle.

Waters joined the Democratic Party in 1989, and quickly rose up the ranks to become the president of the DP National Youth five years later.

But his professional political career only started at the Kempton Park town council when he won a landmark by-election against the National Party in 1997.

He was then elected to parliament in 1999, holding various positions and ultimately becoming the DA’s deputy chief whip.  

His colleagues speak highly of him, saying he is a straight shooter who never minces his words.

Shelley Loe, a former MP who served with Waters in parliament, said he was the perfect candidate for the job.

“In cricket you get an all-rounder and that is what he is in politics,” she said.

“What you see is what you get with him, which is something that is unusual in politics.”

Loe said Waters made the most of every position given to him in parliament.

“He was instrumental in changing legislation in the Children’s Act,” she added.

Loe said she was convinced Waters would take steps to ensure the party stopped strolling away from its liberal principles.

“The move from the liberal stance has hurt him deeply,” she said.

If elected as federal chair, Waters is keen for the party to go back to its ideological roots of classic liberalism and non-racialism.

“We don’t know who and what we are.

“The party does not know who and what we are,” he said.

Waters said the party needed to go back to what it once was that had attracted voters.

“We need to talk about aspirations and opportunities, and how people can better themselves.”

He is also a staunch critic of the government’s BEE policies, believing these need to be dropped as they do not work.

“It's a race-based policy.

“The BEE policies are racist and we are not that kind of party.”

Several political analysts were unable to give their views on Waters.

Analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni said Waters was someone who remained in the background.

“But I hear he is an efficient administrator and has occupied important roles,” he said.

How the voting will work


About 155 DA federal council members will gather at the party’s Nkululeko House headquarters in Johannesburg to cast votes for the party’s next chair of the federal council.

The voting will take place between 7am and 8.45am.

The names of the four candidates will be on the ballot paper, with delegates having to rank all candidates in order of preference from one to four, with one being the most preferred candidate.

Helen Zille’s name will appear at the top of the ballot, following a draw held this week, and the remaining three candidates will be listed in alphabetical order.

Presiding officer of federal council elections Desiree van der Walt said the party used the single transferable voting system.

This means that for the ballot to be valid, each delegate has to rank each of the candidates.

“We use a computer system to capture each ballot and whoever has the most number ones wins,” Van der Walt said.

She said they only announced the winners and did not share the scores of each candidate.

Van der Walt is expected to announce the winner at about midday on Sunday.

What chair of federal council job entails


It is regarded as the second most powerful position in the DA, after leader Mmusi Maimane. But what does a chair of the federal council do?

The person is entrusted with and responsible for the organisation and administration of the DA.

They would be responsible for developing and maintaining a high degree of efficiency within the party as well as implementing decisions of the federal council and the federal executive.

“They will work closely with the federal leader, the federal chairperson, the federal chairperson of finance, and the chief executive officer,” presiding officer of federal council elections Desiree van der Walt said.

“The person will perform other functions, duties and exercise powers assigned to him or her, within the provisions of this constitution.

“The elected person also has the power to delegate any of these powers to the chief executive officer or other appropriate persons,” Van der Walt said.