Makashule Gana’s decision to swap his Democratic Alliance MP job for a post in the Gauteng provincial legislature in early November has sparked speculations that he is being positioned to become the premier candidate in the province ahead of the 2019 general elections.
In an interview this week, the ambitious former DA youth leader did not rule out the possibility.
During the municipal elections Gana was touted as an alternative Johannesburg mayoral candidate by some within the DA, after the Economic Freedom Fighters expressed its reluctance to enter into a partnership that would see Herman Mashaba become mayor.
Senior DA leaders such as James Selfe were warming to the idea of doing without Mashaba as mayor, but party leader Mmusi Maimane put his foot down, arguing that the DA had won Johannesburg because of Mashaba’s hard work.
Gana said: “If the party says ‘be the premier’, and the party is convinced and the leadership in Gauteng is convinced that ‘our chances will be increased by you being the premier candidate’, and then there are reasons advanced, then I can’t say no to that.”
The DA believes it stands a better chance to topple the ANC from power in Gauteng in 2019. It took two key metros, Tshwane and Johannesburg, in the local government elections and increased its support in Gauteng from 33.43% in 2011 to 37.21% in 2016. The ANC saw a decline in support, from 59.66% in 2011 to 45.86% in 2016.
Gana has made no secret of his ambition to lead the party to victory in Gauteng and his strategic move to the province is a signal that the battle for the country’s economic hub has officially begun.
He believes his new position will allow him more access to areas in which he plans to do the groundwork to ensure a provincial win in the 2019 elections. He told the Mail & Guardian this week that his move to Gauteng was the most logical way to do this.
“I needed to be in Gauteng 24/7, because I committed that I want to win Gauteng. I’m in no way saying I’m the messiah of the DA in Gauteng. I’m not the messiah; there’s a team of capable leaders in here.”
The DA’s Gauteng leader, John Moodey, said: “We have recognised that having him here in the province would suit us best in terms of him being more permanently based in the province and therefore to assist in the intensification of our ground war, more specifically in our new growth areas leading up to 2019.”
Gana is expected to focus predominantly on the township cohort where the DA plans to strengthen its structures and recruit more leaders.
Though some view Gana’s move as being about more than mere campaigning and instead is a strategic placement, he insist his move to Gauteng was not in pursuit of leadership positions.
“There’s something that drives me. A position is not one of them. So I’m not doing this to be an MEC or whatever,” he said.
Moodey — a close ally of Gana — said the party had not started discussing names for potential premier candidates and was focusing on building its campaign teams that would be officially announced at a later stage.
In 2015, Moodey endorsed Gana when he contested for the position of the party’s federal chairperson, which he lost to Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip.
Gana’s faction preferred Wilmot James to be elected DA leader at the party’s elective conference in 2015.
The 33-year-old caused a stir early this year when he expressed his unhappiness about race relations in the DA, claiming he had been a victim of racism. He told the Sunday Times that he was called names by white DA MPs, leaders and members.
He said the view that the DA was a white party was one that was still widely held in some areas. “It doesn’t help for one to pretend that it’s not the view of some people that we visit. But the good thing is that it’s slowly changing. I would like for it to accelerate, that perception change, because we can’t go into the 2019 elections with that perception”.
Gana’s is not the only name being bandied about for the top position in the province. The names of former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mashaba have also been mentioned.
Last week Maimane told the M&G that it was still too early to discuss possible candidates because the party was focusing on building structures and developing leadership.
“At this point we are focused on saying: ‘How do we build, how do we grow the momentum now?’. We’ll get into the discussion about who the premier candidates are in 2018. We select premier candidates through a very rigorous process.
“I support people who want to put their hands up and say ‘I will work for the organisation whatever position it is, whatever role it is, I will support the organisation’,” said Maimane.