Newly elected DA leader John Steenhuisen says he warned the party that its message ahead of the 2019 elections was not working, but was instead told internal polls showed otherwise.
Steenhuisen, who was elected interim leader of the party on Sunday, told News24 in a wide-ranging interview that former leader Mmusi Maimane should not be blamed for everything that went wrong in the lead-up to the May national elections.
“I am not saying Mmusi was responsible for everything that went wrong, I think he took some bad advice from some people and the operation let him down in some instances but, unfortunately, with elections, the buck always stops with the leader,” he said.
Maimane resigned as both leader and party member last month following a damning review panel report on the state of the organisation and a dismal showing at the polls.
The DA registered a loss in support, which it now aims to regain as it now starts working towards the 2021 local government elections.
“It’s very clear what we offered the electorate did not gain significant traction, in fact I think it’s the reason why we went backwards. We slip-streamed in the ANC’s image of redress rather than defining our own brand of redress,” said Steenhuisen.
The interim leader, who was part of the “Team SA” project that led the campaigns alongside Maimane, said he had clashed with then-CEO Paul Boughey, who has also stepped down, over what they had been asked to present to voters.
“I went back on many occasions during the course of the campaign to say people are not buying what we are selling, they are not buying the ice-cream, it’s not working, it’s not gaining traction but we kept being told the polls are proving otherwise,” he said.
“I spoke out very strongly about the party’s approach to the elections,” continued Steenhuisen.
He said even its messaging around President Cyril Ramaphosa had been incorrect.
“The DA completely misjudged the mood of the country and I think they got the message wrong on that. I was furious.”
He added these were issues that would be polished out at the DA’s policy conference in April 2020.
The party has to develop policies that both its progressive and classical liberal blocs would get behind, more so on issues of race and redress, which have been polarising and have led to different leaders speaking from different perspectives.
“We should not tinker around what the ANC is doing and critiquing ANC policies but coming up with our own exciting, new bold ideas.”
Steenhuisen said the ANC’s brands of redress have been through black economic empowerment and affirmative action, adding they were not broad-based or even empowering but instead sought to make a few elite people wealthy.
He added the current system continued to keep many outside of the economy and the DA needed to develop policies that actively addressed poverty in the country.
“We believe poverty and people in poverty are easy to define and it makes it far easier as policy makers to target your policies at them,” said Steenhuisen.