DA to gun for renegades at conference

Solly Msimanga will go against embattled Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip – who has been the target of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ ire for the Democratic Alliance’s resistance to land expropriation without compensation. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Solly Msimanga will go against embattled Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip – who has been the target of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ ire for the Democratic Alliance’s resistance to land expropriation without compensation. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The Democratic Alliance is expected to make changes to its constitution that will allow it to recall public office bearers found to be contravening its policies and positions on issue, when it holds its national elective conference next month.

The Mail & Guardian understands that the change, proposed by the DA’s constitutional review committee, has been met with a sense of urgency partly because of the ongoing impasse with embattled Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.

De Lille is being investigated on charges of misconduct and has been accused by the DA of behaving of her own accord, without taking into regard the position of the party that appointed her to her post.

“The proposal by the constitutional review committee is to include a clause around being able to recall [a public representative] … whether it’s a president or a premier or mayor, or any other public representative who no longer aligns with the party’s manifesto and policies,” a party member told the M&G this week.

The congress, which will be held on April 7 and 8 in Tshwane, will also focus on amendments to party policy and, in particular, on clarifying the DA’s position on land redistribution.

The DA has faced scrutiny, mainly from its opposition counterpart the Economic Freedom Fighters, for voting against a February 27 parliamentary motion on expropriation without compensation. The move has seen the EFF threaten to have Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip removed as a “warning shot” to the DA.

The DA’s director of communications, Mabine Seabe, said on Thursday that, while the party did not believe in expropriation of land without compensation, it did support redistribution efforts and would make its policy clearer at the congress.

“We are a party that has implemented land reform in the Western Cape in a successful manner better than any party has been able to do.  Even in the metros we are rolling out title deeds faster than anyone has been able to do so,” Seabe said.

“So we are confident in our land reform policies but its now to take [refine] it to ensure we are able to accelerate that process and be able to articulate it in a way that the people of South Africa understand. But we were never going to go the way of expropriation without compensation.”

Other key policies that will be discussed include those on youth development, housing, immigration, as well as basic and higher education.

While policy and constitutional amendments will form a major part of the congress’ focus, the party will also see a stiff leadership challenge for the position of federal chairperson.

The contest has started brewing between Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga and Trollip, who currently holds the position. While nominations for leadership positions only opened this week, party insiders claim there is already a third candidate interested in the position — Free State chairperson Annelie Lotriet.

The push to have a new chairperson is believed to be an effort towards securing a change of direction for the DA ahead of the 2019 national elections.

Other senior positions however such as that of federal leader Mmusi Maimane and chairperson of the federal council James Selfe are expected to go uncontested.

While there has been a push in some corners of the party to have Selfe, who has occupied the position for 18 years, step aside there appears to be wider consensus on the need to retain him for the sake of stability ahead of the high-stakes elections.

A party member told the M&G that there was a hope, however, that this would be Selfe’s final term.

“He is effectively our secretary general. For this round I think he should be re-elected but when we go to congress in 2021 I think James should step aside and make way for new leadership,” the party member said.

It is still unclear whether chief whip John Steenhuisen, who has been tipped as a possible contender to Selfe, will avail himself for the position.

However another DA insider said it was unlikely that Steenhuisen would go ahead with the challenge as he was aware of the limited chance he’d stand against Selfe.

“He [Steenhuisen] has made too many enemies in the party. And to hold that position you have to be really capable so he will probably back down because he knows he’s not likely to win,” the DA insider said.

Nominations for leadership positions will close on March 16. — Additional reporting by Matuma Letsoalo

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