The Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape is worried that infighting could negatively affect the party’s performance at the 2021 local government elections.
This week the party’s leadership had to intervene during a planned motion of no confidence into Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety, JP Smith, who is also the party’s deputy caucus leader.
Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela was forced to step in to negotiate with two caucus colleagues to withdraw their motion — at least for now.
Elsewhere in the province, DA’s Knysna councillor Donovan Pofadder this week resigned as a public representative as well as a member of the party. He says ongoing infighting has become untenable.
“You can’t speak your mind anymore. It’s like the ANC now. There are a lot of camps inside the organisation. The DA needs to refocus.”
Pofadder said that the DA’s traditional base of white and coloured voters were now being sidelined.
“I don’t want to be promoted because of the colour of my skin. I want to be promoted because I deserve it … I wouldn’t say I was not a Mmusi Maimane supporter. But the DA forgot their staunch support base. And that is the coloured vote. It became a huge stumbling block for me.”
Also in Knysna, the DA is set to go to court to force its own mayor to vacate the mayoral seat.
In June 2018, in what was described as a “coup d’état”, two DA councillors sided with an ANC motion to remove mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies.
DA councillor Mark Willemse was then unanimously elected mayor by the ANC caucus when DA councillors abstained from voting.
He has been mayor ever since.
This week the DA announced that it has officially kicked him out of the party and that his seat will be up for grabs at a by-election.
But the mayor says he’s still not budging, even though the party said it has cancelled his membership.
Willemse says he doesn’t want to leave the party but he took the decision to side with the ANC because the DA “is in a crisis”.
“The DA has gone from a liberal stance to being drawn to the centre (to appease everybody). A lot of people have not taken lightly to that. The DA lost a lot of votes on the fringes, to the Freedom Front Plus and the Economic Freedom Fighters.”
It is these electoral losses that have the party worried — despite governing in the Cape Town metro with a two-thirds majority, and in the Western Cape legislature with 55.5%.
But a party member in the Cape metro says there is an alarming downward trend.
“We got 55% in the province in 2019 compared to 58% in 2014. In the local government elections, we got 66%, but if you look at the Cape Town results in the general election, we only got 52%. So, there is a concern,” says the member, who does not want to be named.
The DA official says current infighting in the party in the province is less to do with the fight between DA leaders nationally and more to do with administration.
“Many of our branches aren’t structured at the moment, and there’s no urgency to get them structured. In the lead up to 2021, there is so much that still has to be done.”
The party’s leadership is playing the inner turmoil down. The Western Cape’s Madikizela, says this is all part of the hallmarks of a growing party.
“We’ve always had issues in the City of Cape Town. I don’t believe there’s a link between what’s happening here and nationally. We’ve grown as a party. And sometimes people expect us to be that party of ladies and gentlemen where issues are raised and discussed in the kitchen. We are no longer that party … the media now has more interest in the DA than ever before.”
But Madikizela is wary about what effect ongoing fights could mean for the party at the polls. “There’s no such thing as a safe municipality. We can’t leave anything to chance. This is the message I communicate to caucus.”
Madikizela says two up-coming by-elections in the Cape metro will give them an idea of their chances in 2021.