National

DA downplays impact of defections

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille met with several Gauteng provincial leaders after members of her party defected to the ANC, but denies concern.

DA leader Helen Zille. (Skyler Reid, M&G)

Amid a string of defections by some Democratic Alliance Gauteng leaders, party leader Helen Zille last week met several provincial leaders in what was described as a "tense" gathering by a source.

The meeting was attended by, among others, Gauteng provincial leader John Moodey, Gauteng south regional chairperson Khume Ramulifho and deputy federal chairperson Makashule Gana.

Eleven DA leaders from Gauteng have joined the ANC.

Compounding the defections are tensions between the Gauteng leadership and Zille after "rebels" in the province openly challenged the national leadership on several issues, including on affirmative action policies and transformation within the party.

Zille said the Mail & Guardian had made "incorrect assumptions" about the meeting. 

"I meet provincial leadership all the time when I am visiting provinces," she said.

"The meeting was friendly and cordial and dealt with a large range of issues, as one would expect during an election campaign. At no stage did the meeting get heated and I think every participant would say it was relaxed and productive," she said, adding that "these are internal DA matters".

'Cordial' get-together
Gana said the meeting had been "cordial" and those present had discussed internal DA matters. 

"When Helen is in the province, we do usually meet. It was not the first meeting and it is not the last one," he said. 

Moodey described the meeting as a "social gathering" meant for leaders to get to know each other outside the working environment.  

"There was no issue specifically that was discussed other than general issues. Defections did not even come up," he said.

"It is absolutely hogwash [to say] that it was heated. If anything was heated, it must have been the jovial mood."

Various topics
Ramulifho said "a range of things" were normally discussed in meetings with the DA leader.

He said the defections would not have a big impact on the party's structures and the DA was already filling vacancies left by former public representatives.

Four by-elections are expected to be held on May 28 and the party will replace proportional representation councillors.

"We are confident we are going to retain all these wards," Ramulifho said.

Former Gauteng deputy chairperson Sipho Masigo, Johannesburg councillors Toni Molefe, Dot Corrigan, Beverly Turk and Alison van der Molen have all dumped the DA for the ruling party. In Tshwane, councillors Sam Moimane and Sello Maila defected to the ANC and MP Beverley Abrahams also resigned from Parliament. In Limpopo, former MPL Mercy Kennedy joined the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Perceived enemy
But sources have said that the DA in Gauteng believes it has always been perceived as an enemy within the greater party, rather than a fearless voice that engages issues freely.

The M&G understands that Zille is keen to improve communication between the Gauteng leadership and the national leadership and to boost resources for the province's political programmes. The DA hopes to wrest power from the ANC in Gauteng and the Northern Cape.

President Jacob Zuma also met his Gauteng comrades a month ago to ease the tense relations between provincial leaders and Luthuli House.

An ANC Gauteng leader said the provincial executive told Zuma that some of his loyalists were trying to widen the rift between the president and the party in Gauteng. – Additional reporting by Verashni Pillay


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