The Democratic Alliance’s Lennit Max believes his fourth attempt at the party’s Western Cape provincial leadership may finally prove to be successful when the DA heads to its elective congress in October.
On Wednesday, the DA announced Max as one of the nominated candidates for the top position in the province alongside current acting leader Bonginkosi Madikizela and Cape Town mayoral committee member Anda Ntsodo.
“I am optimistic about my chances. I’m in it to win it. I’ll work hard to make sure that I get it,” he told the Mail & Guardian this week.
“I’ve got the ability to attract and connect with people, with the majority of voters in the Western Cape. I am popular with them. I know them and they know me,” he said.
Although the names of the candidates were only officially announced this week, Max and Madikizela were seen as the frontrunners, having already started their campaigning earlier this month.
Madikizela is believed to enjoy the support of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and the conservative wing of the party. He is also tipped to have the backing of the Western Cape metro region, the largest of the province’s regions.
Max, on the other hand, has had volatile relationships with Zille and former Western Cape leader Patricia de Lille. In 2015 he accused Zille of spying on him and using black leaders to her own advantage. That same year, Max’s supporters were accused of revolting against De Lille after she beat him in the contest to become provincial leader.
A senior DA member told the M&G that it was still unclear which of the party’s leaders would rally behind Max.
“I can’t even say who the DA leader Mmusi Maimane would back … Max is a bit of a maverick,” the senior member said. “He’s a difficult one to locate.”
Despite his confidence, Max suffered a setback earlier this month when the Western Cape metro regional congress elected Grant Twigg as its leader. Twigg has publicly declared his intention to back Madikizela at the party’s provincial congress.
Max admitted that, even though the urban vote was likely to be split between Madikizela and himself, gaining the backing of city dwellers was not the main focus of his campaign. Instead, he said, he would try to rally the support of largely overlooked rural DA members.
“Before I actually accepted the nomination, I went through the province and consulted with structures to determine the need for a new leadership. They indicated, especially in the rural areas, that the current leadership had neglected them since they were elected in office in 2015,” he said.
“So they requested to make me leader and I duly accepted the nomination after consultation. I’m a person with a calibre that is needed in the rural areas. I am a person for the people.”
His confidence was matched by that of Madikizela, who also told the M&G that he had far-reaching influence in the province.
“My support comes from regions across the board. These are members of the party I’ve interacted with for the last 10 years. They know my strengths and they have confirmed their belief in me,” Madikizela said.
Although the DA has control of a number of metros across the country, Cape Town is its main stronghold. Other metros such as Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg are run through coalitions that have been characterised by motions of no confidence and mistrust between parties.
This week, the ANC in Johannesburg took DA mayor Herman Mashaba and council speaker Vasco da Gama to the South Gauteng High Court, asking it to order Da Gama to place motions of no confidence against himself and the mayor on the council agenda.
The matter was struck off the roll because of a lack of urgency, but the ANC has threatened to continue its crusade and may approach the Constitutional Court on the matter.
Max said, even though the Western Cape was the DA’s stronghold, the party ran the risk of running the province in a coalition in 2019 if it failed to increase its support.
“Our political business is to grow our votes. If you don’t have a leader who can connect with people, we will lose in 2019. An Ipsos survey showed that, in the Western Cape, [support for] the DA dropped from 63.3% in 2016 to 47% in 2017,” he said. “Which means, if we went to election right now, the Western Cape will go into coalition government, which we don’t want to happen.”
According to the senior DA member, the party in the Western Cape was falling behind on its preparations for the 2019 national elections.
“Ultimately, the Western Cape is a lost cause and they’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of 2019 because there’s still a lot of uncaptured DA voters in the Western Cape. Despite it being a stronghold, there’s [still] so many people in Western Cape we need to vote for the DA,” the senior party member said.
Whoever is elected as leader of the province stands a greater chance of being selected as the party’s premier candidate for 2019. But both Madikizela and Max were coy when asked about their aspirations to occupy the position once Zille departed from office.
“For now I am concentrating on my goal, which is to become the leader. Who knows, I may die before I get to that point [the 2019 elections]. So I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. It’s not my focus right now, but I’m not saying it’s not my goal,” Max said.
Said Madikizela: “Honestly, that’s not why I’m standing, but I know some people are standing because of that. I have my own secret wish and it’s not the premiership.”