/ 10 September 2020

No mass DA exodus, for now

Graphic Da4 Twitter
(Graphic: John McCann/M&G)

Despite ongoing discord within the official opposition, Democratic Alliance (DA) party members and officials say it’s unlikely there will be many — if any — who will follow ex-Gauteng leader John Moodey out of the party.

Moodey is the latest in a string of high-profile resignations at the DA. The party claimed last week that the former Gauteng leader left before he was charged with severe violations of party rules.  

The DA accuses Moodey of being behind an alleged conspiracy to defame a colleague and a former party deputy chief whip, Mike Waters, in a sex-for-jobs scandal.

Sources said claims of purges in the party through its federal legal commission (FLC) are also inaccurate. 

Explaining how the party manages discipline, DA members said when a complaint is levelled with the FLC, it does not necessarily mean a charge.

“There may be a few complaints against people, and any DA member could level that. Someone could say something on a live TV interview, and a complaint can be laid. It’s then the FLC’s job to investigate before an official charge is laid.”

So far, the Mail & Guardian is aware of three DA provincial leaders who have had complaints or charges levelled against them. These include Moodey, who has already left the party, as well as Limpopo leader Jacques Smalle and Mpumalanga leader Jane Sithole, who face allegations of misusing party funding. 

Responding this week to Moodey’s allegations that a purge of outspoken DA members is under way, the party’s federal executive chairperson Helen Zille called it “a myth”.

“I don’t know about these charges faced by black leaders in the DA. We have many black leaders in the DA. And when a white person is charged, we don’t talk about a purge or an exodus. We have a fair and due process that applies to everybody,” Zille said. 

The DA has tried to shed its image of a mainly white party in rank-and-file and leadership positions. 

In 2010 academic and scientist Wilmot James was elected as the party’s federal chair, unopposed. In 2011, Lindiwe Mazibuko became the first black person to lead the DA in Parliament. In 2015 Mmusi Maimane became its first black federal leader. 

At the 2016 local government election, Patricia de Lille won a two-thirds majority for the party in the Cape Town City Council. In the same election, Herman Mashaba won enough votes to cobble together a loose coalition to take the mayoralty in Johannesburg. Moodey, a 22-year veteran of the party, is credited with helping grow the party in Gauteng. However, all these leaders have since left the party. 

Other high-profile losses for the DA include Brett Herron, a close De Lille confidante and a former Cape Town mayoral committee member, who left in 2018 and is currently a Western Cape legislator for the Good party. Former party CEO and 2019 elections manager Jonathan Moakes resigned to follow Maimane to form a new political movement.

Former federal chair and ex-Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip resigned from the party’s leadership on the same day as Maimane, but retained his party membership and is still a metro councillor. 

Since the party’s weekend virtual policy conference, there have been rumblings that other, mainly black, senior DA members would leave. 

But senior DA sources privy to the party’s strategies and decisions said there was no “real concern” about prominent members leaving. “We may see one or two local municipal councillors leaving. The next election affects them.” 

The source said possible defections could be linked to job security and the risk of not returning to councils. 

“Some councillors may have lost their backer, like John Moodey, for example. And then they’ll say they won’t even go through the interview process because the new provincial leader may [use] influence to get his people in.”

This theory was confirmed by another source close to the inner workings of the party who said it was unlikely more DA members would jump before the 2021 local government elections (for DA municipal councillors) or the 2024 general elections. (for DA members of national and provincial parliaments).

“Moodey was an outlier. Because he’s so senior, he could jump before he was pushed. But no one else is jumping, whether they are an MP or an MPL. Not 18 months after a general election. People are unhappy. But people also think about their salaries,” the source said.

There is also little worry that members who are loyal to Mmusi Maimane will defect to Maimane’s One South Africa Movement. 

“There wasn’t always support for Maimane. He had to work overtime to build those one-on-one relationships. But he wasn’t always the first port of call for mobilising. It’s unrealistic to expect that people will move to him.”

It’s also understood that Maimane has little appetite for waging a municipal election battle, opting instead to save energy and resources for the 2024 general election.

Another source said that while former members such as Maimane and Mashaba are still close to some DA members, there has been no active attempt to woo them.

However, in a cryptic tweet this week, Herman Mashaba posted a picture of himself and Moodey with the caption: “Great catching up.”