Steenhuisen takes the lead in DA race while Ntuli falters

The campaign for Democratic Alliance leader has seen interim leader John Steenhuisen come out as the clear frontrunner in the race to permanently replace Mmusi Maimane.

He’s being challenged for the position by KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli, while Gauteng party leader John Moodey has also reportedly expressed interest in the race.

At Steenhuisen’s campaign launch last week, party bigwigs, including former DA Federal Council chairperson James Selfe, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, and DA parliamentary chief whip Natasha Mazzone, among others, showed their support for the party’s interim leader. 

Meanwhile, the Ntuli campaign’s closed WhatsApp group, seen by the Mail & Guardian, which was meant to inform public representatives and voting delegates at the May conference about her policy and campaign position, has had members leave in their droves. 

They say if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster. There are no guarantees in politics. I’m running a strong campaign and complacency is the enemy.

John Steenhuisen

But a DA member close to the Steenhuisen campaign said although the interim leader is buoyed by the support, he’s not taking the contest lightly. 

“It’s not that the race is already over. Politics is a dynamic thing. It would be silly to assume it’s over. But John has the upper hand and it will remain like that. It’s going to be a contest. And that’s always good because that brings out the best in people,” the party member said. 

Steenhuisen himself wouldn’t be drawn into discussions about the fact he is the favourite. Instead, saying he’s using the campaign to reach out to DA activists and rally around the upcoming 2021 local government election campaign. 

“They say if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster. There are no guarantees in politics. I’m running a strong campaign and complacency is the enemy. I’ll be campaigning in all nine provinces and interacting with all levels of the party and will be doing so till polling closes,” Steenhuisen said.

Steenhuisen said, if elected as DA leader, his face won’t be on the 2021 local ballot, but rather the pictures of ward candidates. But he’s confident of being the voice of the party at the polls. 

“A number of key people in the party believe I have the ability and the experience to get the party back on track. They know we can get more councillors across the finish line in local elections and we can get control of more municipalities.” 

War of words

But although Steenhuisen appears to be a delegate favourite, the war of words between the opposing camps campaign has intensified. 

Steenhuisen and Ntuli, who both hail from KwaZulu-Natal, have not always had the most cordial of relationships.

One DA member confirmed this, saying, “Not everyone has to be friends. They’re professional, they get on with it. It’s politics.”

The Ntuli camp insists their candidate is not throwing in the towel just yet and that her fight continues until the elective conference, adding that she has as much to offer in attracting disillusioned party voters.

“Mbali is also trying to attract delegates from the white, Afrikaans community. I don’t think John has any more influence in that community than she does. He’s a white, English-speaking guy from Durban. She’s a black woman from Durban,” a person close to Ntuli said. 

Those close to Ntuli said even if she doesn’t win, the party won’t be the same after the elective conference.

“Lots of people are tired of the stunts and the gimmicks. Even if Mbali loses, she’s running a campaign just by being herself. It’s not about obnoxious rallies where you evangelise to people; it’s about talking to people where they realise you’re being honest and authentic with them. It might not be about this showy behaviour that the party has taken on,” the insider said.

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Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

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