/ 3 September 2020

DA policy conference to signal which way party is headed

Consensus seeker: John Steenhuisen
Democratic Alliance leader, John Steenhuisen. (David Harrison/M&G)

Democratic Alliance members take to their computers, phones and tablets in a virtual, national policy conference this weekend that could determine the future of the party. 

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has brought on the socially distant intervention, but some delegates tell the Mail & Guardian the process is “confusing”. Some said that the conference would merely be a “rubber stamp” for predetermined policy proposals.

In February, the DA opened up its policy input for public comment. The party’s policy vision is based on a set of documents titled, “Values and Principles”, “Economic Justice”,  “Vision for Local Government” and “Policy Priority Areas”.

The initial date for the conference was supposed to be April, but it was postponed when the country went into lockdown.  

Since then, the party has been holding online policy workshops to determine its direction. This has also given the camps within the party space and time to strategise on amendments to policy proposals and canvass voting delegates.

But one DA delegate who will participate said there was still uncertainty as to how the process will run. “It feels like we’re just going to rubber-stamp something that was decided on somewhere else,” said the party member. 

“This conference is really only going to be where people talk about the policy that has already been imposed.”

During the conference, the party will lay out its stance on issues concerning race and transformation. In its draft documents, the DA opposes race and gender quotas. 

“When embraced, diversity acts as a potential bulwark against the uniformity of thought and closed thinking. The DA will strive to maximise the potential value of diversity,” the party’s policy document reads.

The conference will also be a litmus test for contenders in the DA’s leadership race.

Interim leader John Steenhuisen is being challenged by Kwazulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli to lead the party. This week, a third contender, Gauteng party leader John Moodey, not only left the race, but also resigned as a party member.

“It will be interesting to see which path the DA takes: whether we choose the path of growth and including every person, or … become a niche in the way we go about things, particularly when it comes to the economy,” Ntuli said.

The KwaZulu-Natal politician said the socially distanced programme would make it difficult to connect with potential voting delegates, but that her campaign will continue. 

“As a leadership candidate, I can obviously not make policy. But I’ll still be making my offer until we get to federal congress on how I believe we should be speaking to the party when it comes to policy matters,” she said. 

Steenhuisen did not respond to the M&G’s calls and messages, but a DA MP close to him said he’d be going to the policy conference to “solidify his lead in the race”.

Party spokesperson Solly Malatsi denied claims that the policy conference will be a rubber stamp. “There’s been consultations in the lead-up to this conference. The policy unit has gone to different provinces to meet with local structures on the draft. We also had a portal where people could view the draft policies and make inputs and propose amendments,” he said.