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20 Sep 2019 00:00
Athol Trollip is apparently in the running to take over from James Selfe as chairperson of the Democratic Alliance’s federal executive committee. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)
Two contenders are believed to be in the running to replace James Selfe as federal executive chairperson, one of the most senior positions in the Democratic Alliance.
Former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip reportedly has the backing of party members close to DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Senior party members have also indicated that MP Thomas Walters has put his hand up.
Nominations open later this month.
The federal executive chair steers the party’s most senior decision-making body and the position is seen as second only to the party’s leader in terms of its power and importance.
In June, Selfe announced he would be leaving the position after almost two decades to concentrate on heading the party’s governance unit. It was thought that the party needed more stability in and co-ordination between the municipalities, including the metros, in the Western Cape where it governs.
Trollip, who is the party’s federal chairperson, said he could not comment because it was an internal party matter.
Walters would also not say whether he is interested in the job.
The DA’s parliamentary chief whip, John Steenhuisen, who was once thought to be in the running for the position, confirmed he was not interested.
“It’s a very important position, which I think is going to be big shoes to fill. Mr Selfe has been in the job for about 20 years. The institutional memory and expertise that he brought to the position is unsurpassable. So, the [new] person is going to have to navigate a very difficult political environment.”
Steenhuisen added that the party must elect a federal executive chair who can motivate people to vote in the 2021 local government elections. These elections are particularly important for the party after this year’s general elections, which saw the DA lose support.
“The DA has a lot of work to do in restoring the faith of some voters who may have lost faith in the last elections,” he said. “This is in terms of winning over new votes and, of course, becoming an exciting home for the hundreds and thousands of South Africans who didn’t vote in the last election. So the work is cut out for them.”
Tensions in party leadership structures have simmered in recent months as the party moves closer to its elective conference planned for 2021.
Senior party leaders have quarrelled on social media, particular over issues of race and economic redress.
These online arguments could be seen as a collision between so-called traditional, white DA party officials and younger, black party members.
Even Maimane has not been untouched, with some in his party questioned his renting a house in Cape Town when he has access to parliamentary accommodation.
The queries indicate that not everyone is happy with him as party leader.
City Press reported that “Maimane has listed a Cape Town home valued at nearly R4-million in a parliamentary register, despite the fact that the home has never belonged to him”. The DA leader told Rapport that he rents the home from a friend. TimesLive reported that he said he had declared the property “because he believed he was required to do so” and that he rented the property because of concerns about safety at the parliamentary village.
Queries were reportedly sent to the party’s federal legal commission last year but no problem was found.
Given the party’s poor performance during the general elections in May and unhappiness with him by some the DA, Maimane could face a challenger for his position when it comes up again up for election.
Read more from Lester Kiewit
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