Ghaleb Cachalia, the aspirant leader of the Democratic Alliance in Gauteng, believes his ANC roots will help the DA to topple the governing ANC in Gauteng in the 2019 general elections.
He is adamant that, if elected, he will attract many disillusioned ANC members into the DA’s ranks before the crucial national elections in less than two years time.
“It’s very hard to cut the umbilical cord with an organisation that styles itself as a liberation movement. I had to make that painful decision, I know what it took and I know how to speak to people to make that shift because I lead by example,” he said.
He was speaking to the Mail & Guardian before the DA’s Gauteng provincial congress on Saturday, where he will vie with longstanding incumbent John Moodey.
Cachalia criticised the DA for increasing its voter base in Gauteng by only 3.8% during the 2016 municipal elections, despite the ANC losing 13.8% of its support.
Moodey has entrenched himself in the DA structures in the province and is recognised as one of the formulators of the party’s political strategy to win Gauteng.
But Cachalia took a swipe at the party, saying it had failed to attract new voters, particularly those who were disillusioned with the ANC.
“The strategy hasn’t worked. Our registration is down, our votes have flatlined, our administration is in a reasonable mess … show me what has worked,” he said.
Cachalia has positioned himself as an agent of change who could appeal to former ANC voters looking for a new political home. Many ANC supporters who were unhappy with the governing party voted for Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, which saw the new kids on the block getting 11.36% during the 2016 local government elections.
Cachalia’s strategy would involve increasing the focus on the DA’s women’s and youth wings as well as addressing a culture of gatekeeping, which he said had started to creep into the party.
Cachalia, a former strategy consultant, joined the DA shortly before the 2016 municipal elections when he was positioned as the party’s Ekurhuleni mayoral candidate.
Being a relative newcomer to the party is seen as a possible disadvantage, which may affect his chances of becoming the DA leader in Gauteng.
Moodey has been provincial leader since 2012 and has gained the public support of several party leaders, including Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana, Vaal regional chairperson Bongani Baloyi and Tshwane regional chairperson Abel Tau.
In a recent interview with the M&G, Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga also hinted at support for Moodey, saying he did not think it wise to vote for a newcomer to lead the province before the 2019 polls.
Cachalia dismissed these concerns, saying he had endured a “baptism of fire” in Ekurhuleni and still managed to show results.
“I fashioned a campaign, together with my team, on a shoestring budget. Tshwane and Johannesburg had over R100-million between them in that campaign; head office gave me R400 000. I raised another R1.4-million, and with that I effected the biggest swing in the province, tuning Ekurhuleni away from the ANC … from 62% to 48%,” he said.
“So when people come and tell me ‘you’re new in the party’ [I think], if I’m new and I got those results, wait until I’m a little bit less new and see what results I will bring.”
Cachalia expressed support for the DA’s pro-poor policy direction but cautioned: “Social liberal policies can’t just be rolled out. The pot is finite; we can’t spend what we don’t have.”
Cachalia has been accused of being the preferred candidate of the “old guard” in the DA, which is believed to be resisting radical shifts in the party’s policy position. But he denied these claims and said he only stood for preserving the DA’s core values.
“If by the status quo they mean that I want to adhere to the essential values of our party, well, they’re dead right. I don’t want to dilute the essential values and I don’t want to be the ANC light,” he said.
His supporters have been accused of foul play leading up to the congress after an internal DA report allegedly showing membership irregularities was leaked to the public.
The report detailed how thousands of members in Gauteng had their names omitted from the party’s database, compromising the ability to conduct a reliable audit.
Moodey’s supporters viewed the leak as an attempt by Cachalia’s camp to taint the incumbent leader’s campaign by accusing him of being unable to account for the party’s members.
Cachalia denied these allegations and said his camp had “played clean”. But he asked why Moodey had not taken some responsibility for the matter.
“If I were leader in this province and the buck stopped with me, I think I might say it’s my fault, I take responsibility. I have yet to hear that [from Moodey].
But Moodey said the party, at national level, had decided not to conduct membership audits for two years to focus on the 2016 elections. “This is nothing else but a negative campaign tactic,” he said.
“In fact, it was a federal council decision not to audit our membership for two years because we were focused on this campaign,” Moodey said.