John Steenhuisen's victory will likely consolidate control over the party by recently elected Federal Council chairperson Helen Zille and her backers. (David Harrison/M&G)
John Steenhuisen will lead the Democratic Alliance as interim leader until the party goes to its elective Congress in 2020.
The party’s parliamentary leader was voted in convincingly at a special DA federal council meeting on Sunday.
Steenhuisen was up against Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana.
Because of a preferential voting system, the party says final voting numbers aren’t immediately available.
Steenhuisen and Gana were running to fill the leader position vacated by Mmusi Maimane who resigned as leader and member of the party last month.
Steenhuisen was always the favourite to win, especially after a third candidate, Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela, bowed out of the race just days before the elective meeting.
The new leader’s victory will likely consolidate control over the party by recently elected Federal Council chairperson Helen Zille and her backers.
They are likely to formally push for the dumping of B-BBEE at the party’s policy conference and other race-based policies which Steenhuisen said has not worked.
“25 years of race-based policies have made poor South Africans poorer. It ended up locking more South Africans out of opportunity. And have made a very small group of people in South Africa exceptionally wealthy. There is nothing broad-based or empowering about it,” Steenhuisen said.
Steenhuisen says his immediate task is to get the party fighting fit for the 2021 local government elections.
Recent by-election results, the first since the resignation of Maimane, shows the DA has lost some support.
“If we don’t learn the lessons from the 2019 elections, we are not going to be prepared for the 2021 elections. So we’ve got to turn the setback of the last election into the biggest comeback in South African politics,” he said.
The politician who’s risen through the ranks of municipal council and the provincial government has no qualms about being a white leader of South Africa’s second-largest political party.
“I happen to be a white South African. But I don’t want people to judge me on the colour of my skin but rather on the quality of contribution I can make to the lives of South Africans,” he told a media briefing after being elected.
The former DA chief whip in the National Assembly announced he was in the running for the party’s parliamentary and federal leadership positions immediately after Mmusi Maimane stepped down.
The two were seen as close allies.
But Steenhuisen said there was nothing untoward about him announcing he was availing himself to stand so soon after the former leader vacated his post.
“I’ve never backstabbed Mr Maimane. I served as his chief whip, I served him loyally, and I served him well right up until the end. It was not possible for me to tell him that I was standing as the interim leader because he resigned as the leader and resigned as a member of the party even prior to this position becoming available. So I didn’t need to seek permission to do that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ivan Meyer has been elected Federal Chairperson replacing Athol Trollip who resigned the same day as Maimane.
Meyer was running against Khume Ramulifho an MPL in the Gauteng legislature and Nomafrench Mbombo, the DA Women’s Network leader and Western Cape Health MEC.
Dharmesh Dhaya, the DA chief whip in the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, withdrew from the race.
The DA’s Federal Chairperson’s job is different from that of the Federal Council Chairperson.
Ivan Meyer’s role is somewhat ceremonial.
He will chair the party’s federal council meetings. Most importantly, will deputise for Steenhuisen when he is absent from the job or incapacitated.
“John Steenhuisen will need a co-leader, to support and rebuild the party. But the real challenge is to save South Africa,” Meyer said
On the party’s horizon is a policy conference in April 2020 where it will outline it’s economic plan to attract voters.
In May 2020 the party will have it’s federal elective congress to vote on a leader and a new executive.
Steenhuisen’s hand has been made stronger by winning the interim leadership race. He has his sights set on being the party’s permanent leader by the time elections come around.