Three DA contenders, three visions

Although Helen Zille may have won the fight for the soul of the Democratic Alliance the battle over who will control the party has just started.

Following DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s resignation two weeks ago, three contenders have emerged.

John SteenhuisenBonginkosi Madikizela and Makashule Gana will contest the position for interim party leader at the special federal council meeting next weekend.

Steenhuisen, acting leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and former chief whip, was quick out of the blocks, indicating shortly after Maimane resigned that he was up for the job. He told the Mail & Guardian that he had always had his eye on becoming the party’s leader.

He’s been using his position to campaign among the 150 delegates of the DA’s federal council.

This week Steenhuisen was campaigning for the party at a by-election in the Eastern Cape.
Party insiders say it was a litmus test for how voters would respond to him if he became leader of the DA.

READ MORE: DA’s ‘street fighter’ to tone it down

Steenhuisen appears to have the support of party delegates who find their interests in Kwazulu-Natal, where he cut his political teeth.

But he’ll face some competition from Madikizela. He’s the provincial leader of the party in the DA heartland, the Western Cape — the only province not governed by the ANC.

Madikizela, the provincial MEC for transport and public works, is popular in the upper echelons of the party and is seen as being close to Zille.

Zille is said to have been instrumental in recruiting Madikizela, a former United Democratic Movement member, to the DA, a political history he’s not shy about.

Like Zille, Madikizela is eschewing economic redress policy based on race, calling himself a true non-racist.

“There were mixed messages about our philosophy and ideology,” he told the M&G.

“The economic empowerment policy, for example: there are those who believe race should be a proxy for empowerment. I disagree with that. Then you have people like Cyril Ramaphosa and Patrice Motsepe benefiting in the name of black economic empowerment.”

Furthermore, he added: “I was nominated by a white, Afrikaner woman. I was seconded by a coloured male, so for me, the good thing is that I have support from people of all races. My base is structures of the party across racial lines in the Western Cape.”

Madikizela is related to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The optics of proximity to the struggle stalwart could bode well for him.

He was also seen as a peace broker during the internal strife that has affected the DA.

“Fortunately for me, I have a national profile. I know all the members of the federal council because I’ve played a role in council for more than 10 years.”

But a fightback is being waged by those sympathetic to Maimane.

Gana, a Gauteng MPL and former youth leader popular among young and black members, said he was approached to lead soon after Maimane left.

He represents a bloc who believe the party should be growing, instead of simply focusing on its core support base.

This would mean opening up issues of economic redress and social justice.

“If we accept that the ANC has not done enough to address the injustices of the past, then it is up to us as the DA to carry on where they have left off. The DA should be at the forefront of issues of economic justice,” he told the M&G.

Gana is part of the group still smarting from the return of Zille, who was elected as federal council chairperson last month. She stepped down from office in May after serving two terms as premier of the Western Cape. Many in the party felt Zille should have stuck with her political retirement.

“Since I announced my candidature I’ve been impressed by the number of people who have come forward to say these are the issues we need to talk about,” Gana said.

“We need to talk about the damage that has been done to the DA brand at this stage, and it is up to us to rebuild that.

“We can’t go back to using the same ideas that used to work for us in the past. The election results tell us people are looking for a different kind of DA,” he said. “They’re not looking for the old DA. They’re looking for a DA that will respond to the challenges that South Africans face.”

But whether Gana has the support in numbers in the federal council is another question.

He lacks the broad national profile of Steenhuisen and Madikizela, but he’s optimistic he can put up a fight. 

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