/ 7 April 2018

DA congress: Where to next for the party?

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will go into its federal congress this weekend with party leader Mmusi Maimane looking to plot a course in a post-Jacob Zuma South Africa.

More than 2 000 party delegates will descend on Tshwane this weekend to elect new party leaders and reach conclusions on more than 50 party resolutions and policies.

The party will also discuss amendment suggestions to its constitution, including heated topics such as diversity in the party’s ranks, and whether or not to introduce a “recall clause” for deployees.

Maimane, who is standing uncontested for his second term as head of the country’s official opposition, will have a task on his hands to assert his ideas in the months before the next general elections.

The new prevailing rhetoric around land expropriation and an internal party debate on race represent some of Maimane’s challenges in finding the DA’s new voice, while it also changes its internal machinery.

“Even though Mmusi is not being contested as a candidate, the direction he wants to take the party in is contested,” political analyst Mpumelelo Mkhabela said this week.

“That contestation doesn’t necessarily need a candidate.

“In fact, in a situation where there is a contestation of ideas it’s actually more difficult than if he had an opponent.

“If there was another candidate, they could fight it out over direction, and whoever wins, their direction wins.

“At the moment, it basically means he will have to follow the wishes of whichever way the discussion goes, regardless of whether he likes it or not.”

READ MORE: Maimane punts DA’s nonracialism

Maimane told the media on Thursday that this was the largest and most diverse congress the party has ever had.

“This congress and its size speak to the tremendous growth of the DA over the years,” said Maimane.

He said the party would discuss 50 resolutions during its two-day conference, which will drive the party’s policy agenda and give practical expression to its values.

Maimane was speaking from the Tshwane Events Centre (Pretoria Showgrounds) where the federal congress spoke about the issue of diversity, which has been positioned as a heated topic in media reports leading up to the gathering. He said the fact that the issue had been brought up did not mean the party was in trouble.

“I think the delegates accept how important the clause is for the party, there is freedom, fairness and opportunity, but I think there is a further discussion when you look at diversity. Do you look at it as a function of representivity or do you say that it acknowledges that South Africans – even if they look a particular race – should enhance the principle of diversity?” said the DA leader.

Maimane said the DA was not trying to replicate the country’s demographics or set quotas within its system.

“If you look at an enhancement of diversity then you’ve got to go out and actually say in our traction of South Africans from broad diverse ranges that it must be a principle we hand over to future generations that when the DA is in Parliament it must be diverse, it must have young people, old people, women, full of diverse views of sexual orientation. Those values must remain something core to what we do as a core business going forward,” said Maimane.

READ MORE: DA to focus on jobs at federal congress

Maimane also acknowledged that there was some discontent over how the political party selected delegates to attend its congresses. He said there were two formulas which could be applied but that one would result in “membership farming”.

“The formula we’ve got currently enhances political activism, takes cognisance of membership and then says on an objective level we can look at electoral results and see where they sit. Now we inherited electoral results of 2014, we inherited a formula from there,” he explained.

The DA leader acknowledged that the party had grown in new communities in areas that were not traditionally DA territories but said the current formula would be adjusted in order to take the party’s growth into consideration.

“Even now when you consider that delegates, as to where they come from, there aren’t officially DA branches, but you want them there so there is better activism,” he said.

Maimane added that this would be reviewed.

“It will be reviewed to enhance that formula because the principle that guides the formula will still remain in place, but you must advance political activism, the growth of your branches and how in fact you ensure that you are interacting with voters. If you depart from that you will end up in a space where all our provincial congresses will be subjected to court processes,” he said.

Growth in the black middle class, Gauteng

Mkhabela said that whichever way the party goes on the given issues, it will be a balancing act to ensure that it continues to grow.

Despite calls for fresh, black faces, which may very well help the party challenge for Gauteng in 2019, the party has grown progressively under its previous white leaders, such as Tony Leon and Helen Zille.

The DA will therefore be circumspect about which support it can realistically attract, and where.

“There [are] two possibilities: it can grow by continuing to eat into smaller opposition, or two, it can grow depending on its messaging in the election within the black middle class.

“Despite the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president, that black middle class still remains sceptical of the ANC following Zuma’s term as president.”

Many in the black middle class have benefitted from ANC policies, so swaying them in joining the DA cause will likely be the key area of growth, specifically in Gauteng, he said.

“With all the successes of growing its support base over the years, forcing coalition governments, there is of course a greater expectation to show more than just marginal growth this time around.

“Its supporters want growth that is sufficient enough to make the national elections competitive, and even get a coalition government in Gauteng.

“That would be probably be considered success, if they can add another province to their portfolio in addition to the Western Cape.

“Failure to do so could be seen as a failure by some of the party’s supporters,” he said.

DA needs more posts in the ‘engine room’

Among some of the key leadership contestations is a battle between Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga and Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip for the position of federal chairperson – effectively second-in-command.

DA Gauteng leader John Moodey told News24 this week that the party did not need a deputy leader per se. Rather, the engine room of the party, the federal council and its chairperson James Selfe, could use some help.

“The party is growing, and yes you need to do a lot more work, but you don’t need to increase the number of federal leaders, especially in a growing party,” Moodey said.

“We have strong provincial leaders who are able to carry quite a bit of the burden of steering the ship and they play a critical role in the stability of the party.” 

As for the federal chairperson position, Moodey said he felt the post should be given more responsibilities, as the party is effectively run by its director-general currently, the chairperson of the federal council.

“That is the machinery that is the cockpit of operations of this huge ship we are steering and he (Selfe) needs another deputy.

“We need someone who runs strategy and implementation of strategy and so on and have someone else responsible for other parts of the organisation to make sure it remains intact and that it runs.”

Selfe told News24 last month that this would likely be his last term in the party post and that he would hopefully be acquiring two deputies to train up before the party’s next congress.

The party will also debate whether to extend the term of its federal executive from three to five years.

Congress will open on Saturday morning at 9am, and conclude with the announcement of the new leadership at 2pm on Sunday. – News24