It's Solly vs Athol as DA opens congress in Tshwane
While there will be a strong focus on the Democratic Alliance’s policies as its federal congress kicks off in Tshwane on Saturday, there will be some serious contestation as two of its mayors go head to head for the position of federal chairperson.
Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga is seeking to unseat Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip, who in turn is hoping to be re-elected as the opposition party’s second-in-command when thousands of delegates cast their votes for the position on Sunday morning.
On Saturday morning, supporters for either candidate had already started to make their views known. The congress was set to kick off at 09.30 with DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s commencement speech.
“I’m a democrat so I embrace contestation. I myself have contested positions. I won some, I lost some, and that’s the essence of democracy,” Trollip told News24.
“I’m confident that I will get much support to continue as chairperson of the party.
“We met all of our objectives in 2015 and more, so I think on the strength of that, people will recognise I would fulfil the role expected of me with distinction.”
Trollip admitted that Msimanga will be a tough opponent, but believed he was the one who had the edge given the party’s growth over the past three years since he was first elected federal chairperson.
“I never take anything for granted in politics, and I’ve got to work until the last vote is counted.
“But I also believe you can’t just campaign on the eve of an election, you have to campaign way before. I set objectives in 2015. We won Nelson Mandela Bay, and Tshwane and Jo’burg, and grew the party’s support.
“I think I’ve done enough work to count in my favour.”
I ‘believe that we will do well’
Msimanga, who was groomed through the DA’s young leaders programme, has previously served as the party’s spokesperson for sports in the Gauteng legislature. He held the position of Gauteng north chair before coming into his current role of provincial chair in the DA.
He told News24 he believed enough work had been done to get him the position of federal chairperson.
“I and the team have put a lot of work into the campaign. I have met and spoken with a lot of delegates across the country and do believe that we will do well,” said Msimanga.
The Tshwane mayor said through his role as provincial chair, his political party led a campaign that resulted in the DA controlling two metros in Gauteng following the 2016 local government elections. He also said under his stewardship, the DA won a two-thirds majority in the Midvaal.
‘People saw I stood up to the EFF’
Trollip has struggled this year to maintain a fragile coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay, having lost the support of both the EFF and the UDM over the past 12 months.
The mayor, however, feels his response to the EFF’s threat to vote him out of his position has bolstered, not weakened, his position in the eyes of supporters.
“Our whole party knows that that’s just the first offensive of the EFF. They have come after me, they will come after Solly (in Tshwane) and they will come after Herman (Mashaba) in Johannesburg too.
“The EFF aren’t going to be our praise singers, they are our competitors. People have seen that I am prepared to stand up to the EFF and the ANC, and I think it’s done my reputation more good than harm.”
While Msimanga’s position as Tshwane mayor has not been threatened, he has had his hands full with the ANC in the region, now an opposition party seeking to making his job difficult. Msimanga has also found himself rejected in townships in the country’s capital city.
Those who believe in him, however, say the way he has managed to maneuver the tough terrain in governance should serve as an example of how he would take on the role as federal chair should he be successful this weekend.
He has also been punted as the fresh blood needed for the party to position itself favourably ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Msimanga said it was important for the DA to determine which direction it wants to take ahead of the critical polls.
“At every election we are told there is this ‘ceiling’. There is no ceiling. We have grown from 300 000 votes to 4 million since 1994. Our values, our principles and our track record is our greatest strength and has kept on defying that ceiling as people rally behind that,” said Msimanga.
He said this was an opportunity to strengthen and enhance the party, while at the same time deepening unity within the country’s main opposition.
“It’s also not about returning to principles that have been violated, but deepening and guarding against the erosion of some of our principles, values and our vision,” he said.
‘We need to keep growing’
Looking to the future, Trollip said he felt the party needed to continue to grow once the new leaders were in place.
“Our biggest challenge is to maintain our growth trajectory. We’ve grown in every single election, and we need to continue doing that,” he said.
“We are the greatest threat to the ANC, and we have to make sure we keep growing our support in every single community.
“The proof of the pudding is in the Eastern Cape. When I started in the party, we didn’t have one MPL (member of the provincial legislature) and no members of Parliament and now we have over 20.”
That was his final promise to delegates: That the they will continue to grow the party in traditional ANC strongholds.
Msimanga shared Trollip’s views that the party would grow come the 2019 polls. He told News24 that the party’s federal congress would assist in “opening up” the party to greater debate, inclusivity, openness and accountability.
“It is not about what is wrong with the DA, but about what is right about it and amplifying and building on that,” he said.
Msimanga said through affirming and implementing the party’s values growth would come naturally. – News24