Helen Zille’s first challenge for the Democratic Alliance party leadership is a well-spoken 17-year-old, who plays water polo, is in matric at a private school in Durban and knows he doesn’t stand the remotest chance of unseating the incumbent.
But party member Nicholas Farrell, who has actively participated in his eThekwini branch since 2012, told the Mail & Guardian this week: “I will stand in protest because someone must run against Helen Zille.”
Farrell said he was approached by senior party leaders to launch a “protest candidacy” against Zille. He would not say who approached him.
The Clifton College pupil believes one can make most change through politics and that he can help change how things work in his party. Although he knows he won’t win, Farrell believes that his stand against Zille would allow other leaders not to feel intimidated by her.
Last year Farrell wrote a letter to Zille in which he bemoaned that under her watch the party “moved ever further away from our liberal ideological roots”, adding, “we have sacrificed our principles for votes”.
“It is out of our love for our party and our country that I ask you not to stand for the federal leadership in May 2015,” he said in his letter. “For the sake of our party I respectfully ask that you stand aside and allow our party to reach its full potential.”
A campaign to have a protest candidate stand against Zille is gaining traction in some party quarters as her hold on power and her alleged arrogance are questioned. Although no one doubts Zille will lose the top seat, some believe it would be “healthy for democracy”.
“It is about teaching her a lesson,” said one provincial leader who is notably at odds with Zille. “She must know she won’t be unchallenged forever,” said another.
According to the DA constitution: “Any member of the party wishing to make themselves available for election as any office bearer in the party in a regional council or higher structure or as a public representative, must be a member in good financial standing with the party.”
Matriculant Nicholas Farrell says party leaders suggested he run against Zille in a symbolic challenge.
Zille took control of the party in 2007 after winning by a 72% majority over Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip and Joe Seremane, then DA chairperson. In the 2011 conference, she was uncontested as party leader.
Although he confirmed he would not throw his hat in the race, DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said he would not support a protest candidate.
“The DA is the most internally democratic political organisation in South Africa,” he said. “Even foreign political parties have remarked on how we are able to run such rigorous democratic internal processes completely peacefully.”
DA federal council chairperson James Selfe said he did not think a protest candidate would have much, if any, support. “Were that to take place, such a person who is not suitable to contest would be soundly defeated in congress,” he said.
At the same time, a battle for the positions of federal chairperson and three deputies is likely to heat up next week.
Former member of Parliament Masizole Mnqasela, now based at the Western Cape legislature, believes the fact that he is running for the position of federal chairperson for the second time will give him an advantage over other candidates.
Mnqasela, who insists he is not running against anyone in particular but wants to serve the organisation, says his campaign will be unique.
“My support is spread throughout the country, as I’m addressing issues that appeal to everyone,” he says. “They know what I stand for. It’s not a new candidate they don’t know. My track record speaks volumes.”
Mnqasela, who in 2011 accused Zille of running the DA like a spaza shop and later apologised, seems confident of his victory after his failed 2012 campaign against current federal chairman Wilmot James.
DA MP and federal deputy chair Makashule Gana said he would be running for the same position, but had not put through his nomination as he was still “in consultation”. He said he would be putting through 12 proposed constitutional amendments, which include widening the scope of the role of the deputies and a complicated formula for congress composition.
“I’ve been a deputy chairperson for the last two years and have proposed some amendments to the role and responsibilities of deputies based on my experience. We could play a bigger role internally. I’m passionate about leadership and developing leaders, and I think leadership development needs to be core and I’ve made that proposal.
“In terms of congress composition, it’s complicated. Composition of congress must look at the growth and where we need to go.”
Former parliamentary leader Trollip, whose name is rumoured to be on the prospective candidates list, said he was considering his options. “It’s too early to say. I haven’t put in a nomination yet.”
DA leader Helen Zille said anyone was welcome to run against her in congress. She added that she has not yet started campaigning.
Nominations close on April 20.