Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga says he is ready to occupy a top position in the Democratic Alliance when the party elects its new national leaders at its federal congress in April.
Although he has thrown his weight behind Mmusi Maimane to be re-elected as DA leader, he wants the party to change from being a one-man-show, with Maimane positioned as the sole decision-maker in the organisation, to one involving a group of leaders.
“We can push for a bigger leadership group instead of centralising our campaign and messaging around just the leader,” said Msimanga.
“In the DA, if I were to ask you who the top six [leaders] in the party are, what would you say? How many other people know them? This is something that, as a party, we are now addressing.”
He told the Mail & Guardian this week that, even though he was ready to serve at top leadership level in the party, he was yet to decide which position to put his hand up for.
“My decision needs to be carefully weighed in terms of which position I go for but, believe you me, you will see me in the top leadership of the party, that goes without saying,” Msimanga said.
“Now it’s an issue of whether I go for the federal chairperson position or do I want to go for one of the [three] deputies. It’s a conversation I’m having with the structures within the province [Gauteng] and in other provinces, to hear what they have to say. And whatever becomes the consensus, we’ll take it from there.”
Leadership nominations close on Friday, and the party is expected to announce the names of its eligible candidates on Sunday.
Msimanga has already received endorsement from KwaZulu-Natal DA leader Zwakele Mncwango, who believes he is fit to serve as the party’s federal chairperson.
Should Msimanga contest that position, he will be up against current federal chairperson and Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip, who has confirmed his intention to stand for re-election.
[Game on: Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip says his experience as federal chairperson will see him emerge victorious. (Paul Botes)]
The congress will discuss policy issues such as the DA’s stance on land reform, as well as proposed amendments to its constitution. It will also discuss the party’s positioning and strategy ahead of the 2019 national elections.
Among the DA’s goals for the 2019 polls are to bring the ANC’s share of the national vote to below 50% and to win control of Gauteng.
The quest to lead Gauteng seemed attainable in 2016, when the DA won control of the Tshwane and Johannesburg metros and increased its support in the province from 33.4% in 2011 to 37.2%.
But Msimanga has admitted that the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president poses a threat to the DA’s ambitions. According to its internal research, the DA has started to lose support, because of a number of factors including its ongoing battles with Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille and Ramaphosa’s election.
Msimanga admits that the DA will have to review its strategy ahead of elections to counter the Ramaphosa effect.
“To say that the election of Cyril Ramaphosa doesn’t have an effect will be us being foolish and shooting ourselves in the foot. We have to be honest about the fact that he is speaking to DA policy,” Msimanga said.
“This is why we are putting together a tactical team, which is going to look at how we respond going forward. Our principles and values will never change but how we then position ourselves in the minds of voters will be important.”
But Trollip disagreed with Msimanga, saying the DA did not need to change its strategy because of Ramaphosa. “The ANC is a broken and compromised political party and, despite electing a new president, we observe that all they’ve done is pour old wine into new skins. This is cosmetic change. ‘Ramaphoria’ will become ‘Ramaphobia’ unless people experience real change.”
Trollip believes his three years of experience as DA federal chairperson will be an advantage at the congress when he vies for re-election, possibly against Msimanga.
The DA has taken flak after refusing to support a parliamentary motion on the expropriation of land without compensation raised by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in February.
The EFF, which has a co-operative agreement with the DA in some municipalities, has already become hostile towards the DA for its stance on land and has threatened to have Trollip removed as Nelson Mandela Bay mayor as a “warning shot” to the party.
The EFF received the backing of the ANC on the parliamentary motion, an act Msimanga appeared to be less than impressed with, saying it was likely to cause “anarchy” because of the differences between the two parties.
He also warned that the DA needed to stop being reactionary and focus on being proactive in communicating its own policies on land.
Last weekend the party came under fire when it distributed an alarmist SMS warning South Africans of a plot by the ANC and EFF to take their private homes.
Laughing nonchalantly at the content of the message, Msimanga said the DA should strive to do better in how it put its messaging across.
“Our focus should not even be featuring anything that the ANC is doing; that should never be in our communication. Our communication should be [about] where are we, where do we want to go,” he said.
“Forget about the ANC’s corruption: people can see it, everybody knows. But what people want to know is what we would do differently and that should be our focus.”