DA’s federal chairs score on diversity, generational mix

Helen Zille was last weekend re-elected as leader at the party’s national congress in Boksburg. Wilmot James retained his position as the party’s federal chairperson, while three new deputy federal chairpersons were elected to serve with him below Zille. The Mail & Guardian profiles the four new leaders.

Mmusi Maimane

Maimane’s star has risen rapidly since he joined the party in 2009. Despite being a complete unknown, and never having spent a day in a government position, he was chosen as the party’s mayoral candidate for Johannesburg ahead of the local government elections in May 2011.

He told the M&G at the time that his lack of experience did not bother him and that he knew the issues involved in running a city by heart.

“I think that’s been the message out there, literally ranging from people who say, ‘Well, if you can get the city to work, we’re totally behind it’ to people who are saying they’re frustrated with what’s happening [and that] ‘we want to be able to run our businesses well’.”

Maimane went on to become leader of the DA caucus in the City of Johannesburg after the municipal polls.

Towards the end of 2011, Maimane was appointed the party’s national spokesperson, replacing MP Lindiwe Mazibuko, who was elected as the party’s parliamentary leader.

His has become a familiar face and he has been at the forefront of some of the party’s campaigns.

Recently, he was part of the DA delegation that went to “inspect” the controversial upgrades of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla home.

He also helped reconcile two models, Jessica Leandra and Tshidi Thamana, who became engaged in a racially charged spat on Twitter this year.

Maimane grew up in Soweto and can speak seven languages. He has a master’s degree in theology. With fellow DA youth leaders Mbali Ntuli and Makashule Gana, Maimane has been tasked with demonstrating that the DA is a diverse and generationally mixed party and – to use an ANC term – a party that can be a home for all.

Makashule Gana

Gana’s election as one of the three deputy federal chairpersons over party stalwarts such as Dianne Kohler Barnard came as a surprise to many. The 29-year-old garnered the third-most votes in the race in which nine candidates stood for election.

Gana, originally from Tzaneen in Limpopo, is a councillor in the City of Johannesburg. He is also the leader of the Democratic Alliance Youth. He has been a thorn in the side of both the ANC Youth League and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). He has on several occasions spoken out against his peers, especially former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. Gana has also persisted in calling for the disbandment of the NYDA.

He is a former member of the ANC-aligned South African Students’ Congress.

He joined the party and its youth wing in 2002 and was elected as provincial chairperson of the DA Students Organisation in Limpopo in 2003.

Gana moved to Johannesburg in 2005 and continued to be active in the party’s youth movement. He was elected national youth leader in July 2010. He is believed to be close to outspoken DA MP Masizole Mnqasela.

Anchen Dreyer

Retired clinical psychologist and MP Anchen Dreyer returns for a second term as deputy federal chairperson. Dreyer is a political veteran, having started her political career as a volunteer for the Progressive Federal Party in 1978.

She became a Democratic Party councillor in the Johannesburg City Council in the early 1990s and was caucus leader in the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council from 1995 to 1997. Dreyer was later elected as a member of the Gauteng legislature  before becoming an MP in 2005, where she is the DA’s spokesperson for the public works department.

Wilmot James

James is one of the country’s most respected academics.

He joined the DA only in 2009 and went straight to Parliament as an MP, where he became the party’s spokesperson on higher education, and later basic education. He is now the DA’s spokesperson for trade and industry. He is also the party’s federal chairperson, a position he has held since July 2010. James is the driver of the party’s plan for sustainable economic growth of 8%. According to sources, he was the initial driver of the rapprochement with opposition parties to present a united front against the ANC, which has now been taken over by parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.

James was also a professor of sociology at the University of Cape Town and was appointed dean of humanities at the same university in 1999.

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