Democratic Alliance leader in KwaZulu-Natal Zwakele Mncwango believes the party’s success depends on its black leaders remaining true to their culture and tradition.
He said this week the only way the party will establish a presence beyond the urban areas is if it starts forming an emotional connection with voters, a strategy he says has worked for parties like the ANC.
Mncwango has urged black DA leaders not to adopt new personas when they assume leadership positions and instead to continue to practise their traditions and use their languages to resonate with the black voters the party is trying to attract.
“The challenge the DA faces across the country is around emotional connection with black voters. That’s a reality and we must face it. We have to start working on emotional connection,” he said.
“When I go home, I slaughter. I don’t hide that this is what we do because it’s my culture. I have never said, ‘Now because I’m educated, now because I’m in the DA, I can’t do what we do in terms of our culture and our tradition’. I practice my tradition. It makes people believe and also connect with you as a leader and [with] the organisation.”
Mncwango is standing for re-election as provincial leader at the party’s elective congress on February 3. He believes he is the right man to help the DA attract more rural voters, a constituency in the province that the DA has struggled to win over.
“The advantage from my side is that I come from a rural area, I know what it is to grow up under poverty. I was walking 10km to my school, barefoot sometimes,” he said.
This week party leaders, including Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga and Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, expressed their support for Mncwango’s re-election, saying the DA’s presence in the province had never been stronger.
Following the official close of nominations this week, it appears unlikely that Mncwango will face a challenge. There had been a push by some members of the party for Mncwango’s predecessor, Sizwe Mchunu, who was unseated in 2015, to stand for the position but Mchunu declined the invitation.
Francois Rodgers, a member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, is contesting the position of chairperson. He believes his 24 years in the DA afford him the experience necessary to steer the party to the 2019 elections.
He is being challenged by 32-year-old MP Dean McPherson, who believes he represents a generation who can bring fresh ideas that will increase the party’s voter footprint.
As in other provinces, the election of a new DA leader in KwaZulu-Natal is crucial, because whoever takes up the position will be expected to craft a strategy for the 2019 national elections. In the 2016 municipal elections, the DA’s support in KwaZulu-Natal increased from 11.88% in 2011 to 15.16%. The party is hoping to improve on those gains.
But the party does have a history of infighting and divisions in the province, which in recent history centred on Mncwango and Mchunu. In 2016, Mchunu was alleged to have been pushed out of his position as DA caucus leader in the provincial legislature, although he insisted his move was voluntary. Mncwango was accused of purging Mchunu and his supporters, who were believed to be rebelling against his leadership.
Though Mncwango has been accused by Mchunu’s allies of being at the centre of the infighting, he believes he has managed to unite the DA in the province and rid it of divisions between the old and new guards.
“One of the key objectives for me was to unite the province,” he said. “If you recall the history of the DA in KZN, there were a lot of divisions and my objective was to start uniting the province.”
Although the DA has big ambitions for being in national and provincial government in 2019, and in KwaZulu-Natal in particular, Mncwango said he was not naive about the party’s ability to secure more than 50% of the vote. But he said the DA would work to push the ANC’s support to below 50%.
“Mmusi [Maimane] at national level has ambitions to become president, which is possible. And I think KZN will play a big role if we can drop the ANC below 50%,” Mncwango said. “KZN contributes a high percentage [of voters] for the ANC nationally. So we want to minimise the influence of KZN on the [ANC’s] national average.”