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By Hein Kaiser


Phalatse’s run for DA leadership is ‘five years premature’

According to insiders, there was a constant battle between what liberals in the party called the 'wokes' and the right wing.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) today starts its federal congress, with former Joburg mayor Mpho Phalatse challenging John Steenhuisen, whose five-year term at the helm ends as the event starts.

Lungile Phenyane is contesting almost every top job in the party, including Steenhuisen’s, though nobody really knows who she is.

It seems a two-horse race for DA federal leader with the winner immediately saddled with the responsibility of cementing the party’s vision and strategy for next year’s national and provincial elections.

ALSO READ: Steenhuisen vs Phalatse: DA race crucial for all opposition

And convincing voters to get out and vote may be a tall order after a number of metro coalition fiascos have seen major cities like Joburg and Ekurhuleni regress off an already low base of service delivery. Tshwane continues to hover in political limbo, despite a new DA mayor being installed recently.

A DA ward councillor said it will take significantly more effort to mobilise voters, who may have lost faith in the political system after the municipal coalitions fell apart.

Biggest congress ever

Federal chair Helen Zille said this year’s congress is expected to be the largest in the history of the party.

She said: “This is an enormous congress, the biggest we’ve ever had, and we have very high expectations of it.”

At the congress, Zille’s position is also up for election, along with party chair, deputy federal chair and a host of other coveted positions. Ivan Meyer, Phenyane and Qhawekazi Mbatha will contest for federal chair while Natasha Mazzone joins several other candidates in the race as federal deputy chair. Zille will face off against Phenyane for chair of the party’s federal council.

ALSO READ: Mpho Phalatse on why she thinks she has what it takes to lead the DA

Zille said this year’s congress, more than any other before it, will determine the direction of the DA moving forward, which is also dependent, to a large degree, on who ends up as leader. The new or re-elected head of the party will then spell it out.

She said: “Anybody who’s standing for a leadership election must have a speech ready to spell out their vision for the future. So, whoever is elected will have the time at congress to share their vision for taking the party into the 2024 election.”

Next year’s election is the big-ticket item for any political party. And while ActionSA and the Freedom Front Plus plan to partner up with other opposition parties to contest next year’s poll as a coalition of like-minded parties – with the sole objective of getting rid of the ANC as first prize – the DA said it will be going it alone.

ALSO READ: Phalatse is SA’s best hope for a government that gets things done

At least until after it has counted its own votes. Whatever happens after that, and whether South Africa will be governed by a coalition led by the DA and its re-elected leader, is anyone’s guess. It’s the weight that the new DA leader must carry.

Steenhuisen ‘reunited the party’

Steenhuisen has been credited by his party peers as the leader who had to carry the burden of a divided organisation as it emerged from under the Mmusi Maimane mantle.

According to insiders, there was a constant battle between what liberals in the party called the “wokes” and the right wing.

ALSO READ: Mpho Phalatse’s mission for DA top seat looks impossible

A member of the DA provincial legislature told Saturday Citizen that is one of the biggest reasons that Steenhuisen should, and perhaps will, win the leadership race. He reunified the party, the MPL said, adding another term as party leader could only yield positive results.

Phalatse praised for ‘decisive leadership’

Phalatse, on the other hand, represents the party’s younger constituency and while she did not succeed as Joburg’s mayor beyond her second ousting, many in the Johannesburg caucus feel her decisive leadership during her tenure, along with public perception that “she means business”, will compete well against Steenhuisen’s determined leadership.

ALSO READ: Mpho Phalatse kicks off leadership campaign with economic justice manifesto

However, some Gauteng public representatives on a city and provincial level said Phalatse’s abrasive personality may not be everyone’s cup of tea and she may lack the charisma to lead. Insiders suggest her run for leadership is five years premature.

Zille would not be drawn on which candidate enjoyed her support.

She said: “I certainly am not going to express any opinion about the leadership election. It’s not my job to do so. My job is to serve whoever the leader is and whichever leadership is elected, which is what I will do.”

Phalatse did not respond to Saturday Citizen, falling victim to the party’s apparent unspoken policy of avoiding contact with anyone who may not sing off the hymn sheet provided by its spin doctors. Steenhuisen is equally as guilty.

ALSO READ: Drama may yet haunt DA’s federal congress

Perhaps the freshly minted leader of the DA, or the re-elected party seniors, should consider realigning its media policy from a Stalinist perspective to something which more closely resembles the DA’s liberal principles.

It would be a good start for a party raising great expectations with its congress, its future, and possibly that of South Africa.

– news@citizen.co.za