While many commentators expect the race for the DA’s federal chairperson to be a close affair between Helen Zille and Athol Trollip, one of the other two candidates, Mike Waters, says it is much closer than a lot of people expect.
This coming weekend, at a meeting of the DA’s federal council, a successor for James Selfe, who held the position of chairperson of the federal council for 19 years, will be elected from Waters, Trollip, Zille and Thomas Walters.
Speaking to News24 on Wednesday, Waters said his campaign was gaining some “traction” among members of the party and federal council. “It’s going all right.”
Waters thinks his “non-racial agenda” of “reclaiming [the DA’s] liberal values” is striking a chord.
Asked what he would do if elected, he said he would be “unequivocally non-racial” and reject black economic empowerment (BEE). “[It] doesn’t work and is racist.”
Proxy for poverty
Waters rejected the notion that in South Africa race was a proxy for poverty.
“The proxy for poverty, is poverty,” he said, adding that redress policies should be directed at poor people, irrespective of race.
He also wants the party to reconnect with voters.
“It’s horrific,” Waters said of the DA’s dismal results in by-elections since the May general election. “The voters are sending us a message: They’re unhappy with us.”
He added the DA should agree on its principles. “I hope it is classical liberal principles.”
Another thing he wants to improve is the DA’s messaging to its voters. “It has to consistent, clear and concise.”
Asked what he makes of Zille and Trollip contesting a senior position in the party 12 years after they competed for party leader (which Zille won), Waters said it showed that people were committed to the party, adding he does not have a problem, as long as people could contribute.
His stance on BEE – that race is not a proxy for poverty – is in contrast to that of party leader Mmusi Maimane.
In February, the DA’s federal council “unanimously” adopted the DA manifesto’s position on redress and empowerment, which was seen as an internal victory for Maimane.
“We believe race is a proxy for disadvantage and an accurate reflection of who is still excluded from opportunity. The party has not decided to move away from race-based redress policies, however, we unequivocally reject the ANC’s version of redress which operates to enrich and re-enrich the connected elite,” Maimane said then.
This has been an ideological battleground in the party for several years, since at least 2013, when the issue of BEE caused a row between then party leader Zille and the DA’s former parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko.
Zille accused Mazibuko of getting the party’s policy on BEE wrong in supporting BEE legislation proposed by the ANC, while Mazibuko feared the party’s resultant flip-flop could cost it at the 2014 elections.
Meanwhile, Walters is still flying under the radar. He has previously stated that he does not campaign through the media. When contacted by News24 on Wednesday, he confirmed that this was still his position.