Democratic Alliance (DA) federal council chairperson Helen Zille has disputed claims that her plan to reinstate Gwen Ngwenya as DA head of policy was thwarted by the party’s federal council on Sunday.
Journalist Samkele Maseko alleged on Twitter that Ngwenya was supposed to report to work as head of policy on Monday morning, but will not be after the federal council did not agree with Zille’s plans to hire her.
According to Maseko, the DA’s National Management Committee (NMC) had resolved to hire Ngwenya, only for this to be rejected by the council.
Zille, however, said that neither the council or the party’s federal executive (FedEx) took any such decision.
“No such resolution was taken at either FedEx or Federal Council,” she said. “Pls don’t invent news.”
However, News24 reports that the DA is clashing over Zille’s decision to reinstate Ngwenya, saying the decision was met with resistance.
Members of the DA’s federal executive and federal council reportedly raised concerns on Sunday.
It is understood that the federal executive discussed the matter and that some members were uncomfortable about the processes that were followed and an apparent lack of transparency.
“Part of the debate was on how the process unfolded. When was it advertised and Helen [Zille] explained that due to time constraints, Gwen [Ngwenya] was the most suited as she had previously played the role of policy head for the DA,” a party leader said.
It was raised again during the federal council meeting, which elected parliamentary leader John Steeinhuisen as interim leader and Dr Ivan Meyer as the replacement for former federal chairperson Athol Trollip.
Trollip resigned along with Maimane, although he is still a member of the party.
Insiders say there was “pushback” against the idea to bring Ngwenya back into the leadership fold of the federal council, which is the party’s highest decision-making structure outside of the federal congress.
“Just her (Ngwenya) as a person, did not go down well with some in the council,” another source told News24.
“There are concerns about how she left her role, that she brought the organisation into disrepute and people didn’t feel comfortable with the processes followed by [Zille],” added a second source.
‘This is not a Mickey Mouse operation’
This second insider said Ngwenya could not be treated as if she was the only policy guru in the country and added that it was best to open up the process and allow those who had an interest to apply for the post.
Another council member said if Ngwenya was reappointed policy head, it would signal the beginning of the end for Steenhuisen.
The senior member said Steenhuisen who, he believed, was against Ngwenya’s reappointment, needed to show his independence early.
“I don’t care if she is appointed, but someone must take that action – not Helen, it must be John. We want to see what he will do in his first days. Will he endorse her? This will allow us an idea on who and what we are working with. John has to take a decision on the issue. He must say if he wants Gwen employed and if he does, he must accept the consequences and be able to deal with the fallout that comes with that decision. You appoint Gwen, you inherit her image, her faction and the divisions that come with her. You can’t duck and dive forever. You must make a statement.”
The senior member added that the legitimacy of the appointment was questioned during the council.
“You can’t just hire at will. Due process must be followed,” the member said, adding that “positions need to be advertised and they must comply with the law. Go to Helen and ask her where she was transparent. This is not a Mickey Mouse operation.”
When asked about Ngwenya’s name coming up during deliberations, Steeinhuisen said it was still an ongoing process.
“The federal executive will be convening later this week but that is not my lane, that is Helen’s lane. She will be leading that discussion on that particular matter,” Steeinhuisen said during a media briefing shortly after he was elected interim leader.
Zille, defending her actions, told News24 she did what she needed to do because time was not on the DA’s side. She insisted that she “meticulously” followed due process.
She also said her decision was partly because the federal council gave her a mandate to urgently start the process towards the party’s policy conference in April 2020. She cited that the December holidays were around the corner and that a large amount of work needed to be done.
“I followed absolutely every process in HR and on the resolutions of federal council and I took it to NMC (national management committee), which is allowed to take decisions and I went through all the processes,” said Zille.
“I got on with the job I was mandated to do and I did it,” she continued.
Zille, who didn’t seem fazed by the concerns raised, questioned which processes members of the federal executive and federal council were unhappy about, saying no one specified which process she failed to adhere to.
“They are saying I should have consulted the newly elected chairperson; he was very much part of the discussions. But he had not been elected federal chairperson yet, but he was there,” Zille said. She was referring to Meyer.
The federal council chairperson said the matter remained on the table and would be discussed again on Friday.
Meanwhile, Makashule Gana, who lost to Steeinhuisen in the race for interim leader, told News24 he would make sure branches were launched so that delegates from his constituency and across Gauteng could be represented and the early congress.
“When South Africans look at us, they must see a party that is going to build an inclusive SA. They must see that the DA is a true home for all South Africans,” said Gana.
“This is something we are working towards to make sure it’s realised and we are not going to stop,” he said.
City Press reported over the weekend that Ngwenya was “likely” to return as the party’s head of policy. It also said she may become the party’s next parliamentary leader.
Ngwenya herself told The Citizen she’d prefer not to comment, and would leave it to the party to do so.
Zille did not respond to questions sent by The Citizen and her comment will be added if and when we receive it.
#DAFederalCouncil Former @Our_DA MP @GwenNgwenya was supposed to be returning at the party's Headquarters tomorrow morning as Head of Policy which she resigned https://t.co/WdcQYnDSTl's Federal Council and FedEx rejected @helenzille plans that NMC had resolved to hire Ngwenya. pic.twitter.com/oPKzigDw05
— #TheLordOfTheMedia (@samkelemaseko) November 17, 2019
No such resolution was taken at either FedEx or Federal Council. Pls don't invent news.
— Helen Zille (@helenzille) November 17, 2019
Following this year’s elections on May 8, Ngwenya declined to take up her seat in parliament for the DA.
She shared her decision in a tweet at the time, stating that she’d prefer to work “on issues at the nexus of tech and public policy”.
Ngwenya stepped down from her position as the DA’s policy chief in January – a month before the party was expected to unveil its 2019 election manifesto.
It was reported at the time that Ngwenya’s resignation was as a result of her differing with party leadership over its stance on broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE).
Business Day cited an e-mail in their possession in which she expressed frustration over the fact that she received little feedback on her policy proposals since being appointed the party’s head of policy at the beginning of 2018.
Ngwenya is of the belief that race should not be a factor in economic policy, much like her former place of employment, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).
Under former leader Mmusi Maimane, the party argued over BEE and other race-based policies. Maimane supported some such policies to aid in economic redress, leading to those in the party against such policies lobbying for his removal.
Now that he has resigned, with two people who are vocally against race-based policies in the party’s two top positions – John Steenhuisen the party’s interim leader and Zille its federal council chairperson – it has been predicted that Ngwenya might return.
(Additional reporting, Kaunda Selisho)