/ 3 November 2017

Rumblings of dissent in ‘new’ DA

‘Old guard’: Davis says that he has always been behind a pro-poor DA
‘Old guard’: Davis says that he has always been behind a pro-poor DA

Former Democratic Alliance policy head Gavin Davis, who resigned last week, has denied claims that he was at odds with party leader Mmusi Maimane about the direction he was steering the DA in.

“I have always been a supporter of Mmusi Maimane’s leadership, and I believe he has the potential to take our party and our country to great heights,” Davis told the Mail & Guardian this week.

Maimane said that Davis had resigned for personal reasons. But two party insiders claimed that his departure was because of his unhappiness with the DA’s new policy.

“He’s not open to the fact that we need to look at a different way to address the imbalances in the country,” a senior party member commented.

The member claimed Davis represented former party leader Helen Zille’s era of leadership and rejected Maimane’s drastic changes — explaining that Maimane’s support base in the DA was beginning to stand up against the “old guard”.

“There seems to be a pushback against them, because a lot of people who support Mmusi are giving him some space to carve his own identity in the party,” the member said.

The resignation comes at a time when the party is in the process of fleshing out its policy documents ahead of the 2019 elections.

Some of the ideas that have emerged from the policy plans include providing free transport services to young job seekers living in townships, doubling the child support grant to provide for nutritional needs, and a school voucher programme to give pupils a greater choice of schools to attend.

The member claimed that Davis had been opposed to some of these ideas and believed he had been sidelined in their formulation.

“There is general unhappiness from people who think they should be in control. He used to fight. He fought with [shadow DA basic education minister] Ian Ollis on issues of education. He fought against the plans to offer vouchers to poor families so they can send their kids to any school they choose.”

But Davis has disputed that he was against the pro-poor policies and said he was directly involved in formulating ideas on school vouchers and an allowance for job seekers.

“Whoever is making those claims is clearly misinformed. One of the discussion documents I conceptualised was on the ‘opportunity ladder’, which is specifically designed to give every disadvantaged child the opportunities they need to escape poverty,” Davis said.

Another senior leader in the party said Maimane was no longer
bothered by the possibility that some people were likely to leave the
party if the new policy direction continued.

“We’ve got to accept that along the way there will be people who steer away and he’s not concerned about that. It doesn’t bother him,” the senior leader said. “You can’t keep everybody happy. If you want to keep everybody happy, feed them ice cream.”

Maimane said the party will forge ahead with its pro-poor policy direction, regardless of whether some members are unhappy with the shift. He also said he was not concerned that Davis’s resignation would affect the party’s new policy path becuase he was not “the sole person” behind it.

“We are clear that it [pro-poor policy] has become a very crucial focus of our organisation, and it is the instruments that are used sometimes that become a point of confusion. But Gavin’s role has not changed any of that,” Maimane said.

“The ultimate custodian who will sign off on things is [Federal Council chair] James Selfe,” he added.