After being hailed as the man who helped the Democratic Alliance’s federal congress to avoid chaos over its debate on diversity, Makashule Gana believes he has proven himself capable of standing as the party’s candidate for Gauteng premier.
At the congress last weekend, party leader Mmusi Maimane reminded Gauteng leaders that they had no choice but to ensure a DA victory in the province in 2019.
Gana, a member of the provincial legislature (MPL), believes he not only has what it takes to lead the election campaign in Gauteng but also to become its premier should the DA be successful.
“I believe I’m the best. If I did not believe that I was the best person, I would not have put my name forward. But, if there is a candidate better than me, then the party will choose who they think will be best,” he said on the sidelines of his campaign launch on Tuesday.
If more candidates put up their hands, they will appear before a panel of federal and provincial executive members who will select the official candidate.
But the party’s federal executive chairperson, James Selfe, said Gana’s move was premature.
“The process is not yet opened, certainly not for premier candidate. What has opened is the process of applying to be a member of the provincial legislature or National Assembly in 2019. But the premiership selection panels will only take place much later,” Selfe said.
“There’s nothing particularly wrong with what he has done; it’s just that it might be a bit premature.”
But the premier hopeful said he was not concerned that his announcement might have been hasty. “I’m just stating my intentions. I can state my intentions today that I want to be the president of the country in 2024; nobody can stop me from saying that because in the DA we are open.”
Gana believes he used last weekend’s congress to prove to the party what type of leader he would be should he be given a chance.
At the congress, delegates were gearing up for a heated debate on the proposed introduction of a diversity clause in the DA’s constitution. The original wording of the clause was being rejected by some in the party because they feared it would make room for the introduction of quotas. They proposed a different version, which explicitly stated a rejection of quotas.
On the first day of congress, there were rumblings of unhappiness after an hours-long meeting of the federal congress the night before had failed to reach an amicable solution to the matter.
DA MP Gavin Davis, who led the push for the rejection of quotas, said Gana had been the one to propose a solution that would eventually save the situation from deteriorating.
“Mmusi explained that Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana had a good proposal to resolve this minor impasse and avoid an unwanted and overblown perception of racial division. I must admit, I was doubtful,” Davis said in a blog post.
“Makashule assured us that there would be no significant opposition to amending section 1.3.2 to include a rejection of quotas. So we decided to trust him.”
The solution involved including a reformulated version of the clause, as well as adding the rejection of quotas in another section of the constitution.
“We worked on this thing until two minutes before people stepped up on to the stage,” said Gana. “For me, I was convinced this thing could be done. Even when people said ‘this clause needs 80% [to pass]’, I said ‘watch me, we are going to get 100%’. And we did.
“I think there are times that you are not so sure that you have it but [on] Saturday a part of me got revealed to myself and also to the leadership of the party.”
Despite his success, questions have been raised about whether the DA is ready to elevate more of its young “progressive” black leaders to top positions. At the congress, the black progressive grouping failed to secure the election of Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga or Gauteng MPL Khume Ramulifho to the federal leadership structure.
“We were disappointed but we kind of knew it wouldn’t happen. There are people in the party who are still afraid of that sort of thing, or [are] resisting change,” said one DA member who was at the congress.
Gana himself has been accused of “sounding ANC” because of the transformation agenda he often pushes and his vocal stance on racism in the DA.
He said the party would have to start not only by accepting different political cultures and ideas but also allowing them to influence the DA’s ideology.
“The culture evolves. As you grow, there are people who come from different political cultures and then we merge and a new culture gets born. You don’t want people to assimilate into one culture or get swallowed into a culture that is too foreign. In the new culture, they want to see their culture there.
“Maybe that’s why people say ‘Gana when he speaks he sounds ANC’. I don’t sound ANC, I just sound Gana.”