Load shedding

DA interim federal executive chairperson Helen Zille and the party’s interim leader John Steenhuisen. Image via: Veli Nhlapo

Steenhuisen, Zille likely with a fight on their hands for DA leadership

The DA leadership race is heating up with just three months left before the federal congress in May.

Load shedding

DA interim federal executive chairperson Helen Zille and the party’s interim leader John Steenhuisen. Image via: Veli Nhlapo

It’s early days yet in the potentially bruising and divisive DA leadership race, but more than three months before the event, party insiders say both newly minted interim leader John Steenhuisen and interim federal executive chairperson Helen Zille are likely to have to fight for their positions.

One senior DA member has officially confirmed he will be a candidate against Steenhuisen, and dependable sources say two more top-tier candidates are about to enter the race against the interim leader.

As for Zille, a respected and experienced DA leadership figure with a proven track record is currently testing the waters for a possible challenge, but has not reached a final decision yet.

Top three positions filled by interim leaders

The leadership election will take place at the DA federal congress in May, which is expected to be attended by more than 2 000 delegates.

Since October 2019, the DA has had the unusual and unprecedented situation that all three its top leadership positions (the third is the federal chairpersonship, held by Dr Ivan Meyer) were filled by interim office bearers, because all three the previous incumbents — Mmusi Maimane, Athol Trollip and James Selfe — resigned within the space of three days.

Whoever wins election in May will serve a three-year term until the next federal congress.

Possible contenders for Steenhuisen’s position

Steenhuisen will definitely be opposed for the overall leadership by DA Western Cape provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela, who has confirmed his candidacy. At this stage, it seems very likely that DA Gauteng provincial leader John Moodey and former DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli will also be nominated.

Moodey has confirmed that he has received many requests to avail himself and that he is seriously considering it.

Sources close to Ntuli say she is very likely to throw her hat in the ring. She  is currently the DA’s chief election organiser in KwaZulu-Natal (the only province in which the DA showed substantial growth in 2019’s general elections) and she is a member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature.

Mike Moriarty not committing to race – yet

Zille will possibly be opposed by DA Gauteng provincial chairperson Mike Moriarty, who has served in many DA leadership positions over the years. He fills a key position as the DA representative on the Independent Electoral Commission’s multiparty liason committee, where he is held in specifically high esteem by the senior politicians who represent their parties there.

Contacted for comment on Monday evening, Moriarty said he will take a final decision closer to the congress.

Ivan Meyer still unchallenged

At this stage, no prominent candidate has indicated an appetite to challenge DA deputy federal chair Ivan  Meyer for the position of federal chairperson.

If Zille and Steenhuisen win, as is widely expected at this admittedly early stage of the contest, and if Meyer wins re-election (which is a good bet), it will mean that all black candidates contesting meaningful national leadership positions would have been beaten, and that there will be no black African in the countrywide top leadership.

With Meyer (who is coloured) filling a largely ceremonial position, it would mean that every important elected national political decision-making leadership position (including both parliamentary chief whips) in the DA will be filled by white people.

DA’s ‘brand new principles’?

Much as the DA’s brand new principles (released on Monday 3 February) all but denies that race has any role in politics, it begs the question what the vast majority of South African voters will make of such white domination, and whether, in South African Realpolitik, it would mean that the DA has realistically abandoned its aim of unseating the ANC from government.

In practice, the DA may find itself viewed increasingly as returning to its previous incarnation as primarily a defender of minority rights.

The tone of the leadership contests will also be watched carefully by that bewildered grouping called potential DA voters, who have seen the Democratic Alliance take a nosedive from the growing, reconciliatory, well-functioning, disciplined and relatively united party it was for many years up to its high-water mark in 2016.

Whoever wins the leadership elections will attempt to rekindle what has been thoroughly squandered in just three years – and they will face a mammoth task indeed.