Tshwane DA in candidate list mess

Claims of nepotism in the compiling of DA election lists are dogging some of the party's Pretoria leaders and candidates. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Claims of nepotism in the compiling of DA election lists are dogging some of the party's Pretoria leaders and candidates. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Claims of nepotism, the promoting of romantic partners and favouritism among members of secret organisations have, since Thursday, forced the Democratic Alliance in Tshwane to compile new election lists.

The rerun was meant to be a confidential process in a politically sensitive metro where the DA believes it has a chance of governing following the August 3 local government elections, after the ANC’s majority in the metro dropped to just below 50% in the last general elections.

In a leaked 56-page internal appeal against the original candidate selection process, Tshwane councillor Lex Middelberg outlines the gripes he and a number of other councillors had about the process.

He alleged several Tshwane councillors and members of the Gauteng legislature who are high on the list – including the party’s mayoral candidate for Tshwane, Solly Msimanga – were Freemasons associated with Lodge Koh-I-Noor in Pretoria.

Freemasonry is a nonpolitical, nonreligious charitable movement that has, over the years, been veiled in prejudice and mystery.

Msimanga denies being a member of the Freemasons “or any secret society”, and says he deliberately wasn’t part of any process of selecting list candidates “to keep my mayoral campaign clean”.

“Freemasons upon their initiation swear an oath of brotherly fealty to each other and the order, and they refer to each other as ‘brothers’,” says Middelberg.

He listed nine names of alleged Freemasons in the Tshwane DA, as well as their wives or girlfriends who were aspirant candidates, who “have been placed in the top 20 of the proportional representation list or were given a ‘safe’ ward”.

This was at the expense of “experienced and hard-working incumbents and meritorious aspirant candidates from outside”, he says.

The DA’s Solly Msimanga vehemently denies being associated with any secret society. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Middelberg also says it was wrong for members of this lodge to be members of the selection panel, where they adjudicated over the applications of their “brothers”.

In much of the alleged wrongdoing, Middelberg fingered the party’s Tshwane regional chairperson, Fred Nel, who he alleged is also a Freemason and who allegedly favoured a woman with whom he had “an intimate love affair” even though the electoral college said she wasn’t a suitable candidate.

Nel denied being a Freemason but referred all queries about the list process to DA federal council chairperson James Selfe.

Middelberg also listed four instances where family members – a husband and wife, an uncle and a niece, and business partners including Middelberg and his brother, Leo, – were allowed on the list without having permission for both to stand, as the party’s rules require.

Middelberg, who was placed in an electable position on the list, alleged 17 irregularities.

For a person to become a DA list candidate, they must be interviewed by the party’s electoral college, which can red-flag unsuitable candidates, for example in cases where councillors did not work hard enough or if they were deemed to be racist.

Those who pass this test then appear before a selection panel elected by the region. It is this process that has to be rerun, with former party chief whip and ambassador Douglas Gibson tasked to do truncated, 10-minute interviews with each aspirant candidate.

Selfe confirmed that the Tshwane region had to go through the selection panel process again, but said this was the only municipality where this was necessary.

“There were a series of appeals and the federal legal commission upheld the appeals on quite narrow procedural grounds,” he said.

According to a letter by Nel explaining the rerun, the grounds were that the “election of the selection panel was irregular as persons with a vested interest were part of the election” and “the proper process was not followed to apply for the electoral college to stop its work and for all candidates to be advanced to the selection panel phase”.

Selfe said no finding was made on the allegations against Nel, and “unless new evidence came to light” there would not be a disciplinary process against him.

On the allegations of party members and leaders being Freemasons, Selfe said the party would have to look at that again after the elections.

The last time this was an issue in the party was in 1989, when Wynand Malan was in the leadership of the Democratic Party. He was also a member of the Broederbond.

“As always, there is a natural conflict between people’s right to freedom of association and the possibility of a conflict of interest. We are going to have to look into this thing at some point,” he said.

The late DA chief whip Watty Watson was the Freemasons’ grand master – or highest leader – in South Africa before his death in 2014.

But according to one Freemason, members aren’t allowed to mix politics and freemasonry, and cannot join for personal gain.

This meant that, if Freemasons tried to capitalise on their brotherly network to be appointed to high positions, it could lead to excommunication.

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