/ 2 April 2023

DA warns delegates to disregard message criticising Steenhuisen

John Steenhuisen 2189 Dv
Democratic Alliance leader, John Steenhuisen. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

A warning to delegates at the DA’s electoral conference was sent out late on Saturday night by the party’s presiding officers following the circulation of an anonymous message disparaging outgoing party leader John Steenhuisen.

Presiding officers Greg Krumbock, Bridget Masango and Mimmy Godwe told delegates that appropriate action would be taken against anyone defaming the party leader. 

“It has come to the attention of the presiding officer that Mr John Steenhuisen was attacked and defamed in a WhatsApp that has been sent to delegates anonymously on 1 April. Delegates are to disregard it as misleading and negative campaigning,” the warning message said. 

The anonymous WhatsApp will be referred by the presiding officers to the relevant structures for appropriate action. 

The circulated message contained a DA logo. 

The message said that under Steenhuisen, the party lost three million voters and dropped five points for a 21.66% result in the polls from 2019 to 2021. 

“Our own numbers show that we are stuck at 21%,” the message said. 

Comparing him to former ANC president Jacob Zuma, the WhatsApp said Steenhuisen had predicted that the DA was 10 points behind the ANC during a debate with his opponent Mpho Phalatse on Friday, while at the conference he had pointed to a possible 12% gap between the two parties. 

“He said 12% but probably meant 12 points in a bit of a Zuma numbers moment. This 10 or 12 point difference is a delusion. Can the party be led by one so out of touch with political reality? By the DA’s own numbers on 6 March, the ANC held at 50% and the DA at 21% … and the leader tells delegates that the gap is 10 points or 12, and closing. Like Cristo Wiese says, if you can lie to your wife, you can lie to me.” 

The message continued that the DA’s numbers suggested that the party had 5% support among black people, adding that this would not get them out of the low 20’s in the national election next year. 

“Without a multidimensional dynamic change to be ready for the dynamical change of the post ANC era, there will be no change at all. Our early 20’s numbers will remain early 20’s numbers. We need 30’s and beyond. By the numbers, John can’t get us there. We need a DA leader who can deliver votes.” 

Former national whip Steenhuisen was elected interim DA leader in 2019 and official party leader a year later. He is considered a shoo-in for re-election. 

Krumbock confirmed the message was sent to delegates, and said it had not been established who authored it. 

“There was an anonymous WhatsApp sent to a number of delegates and that is contrary to the rules of our campaigning where every publication must carry the name of the person issuing it. There was no way to trace who sent it, we don’t even know if it came from people in the DA, it could be anyone doing this. The point is that we have an obligation when we receive anonymous messages like this which are negative, to deal with it, which is what we have done,” he told Mail & Guardian

He added that the information contained in the message to delegates was “80% untrue”. 

On Saturday, tensions were high between delegates when an amendment to add a deputy federal leader failed. Outgoing federal chairperson Ivan Meyer had to call for discipline when delegates refused to accept the result. 

The vote had to be taken twice as only 29 votes stood between those for and against a deputy leader. This would have meant that Mpho Phalatse or Steenhuisen would deputise the other should one lose the election. 

Two disgruntled delegates who spoke to M&G said that they would still pursue the amendment in the next congress. 

The inclusion of a deputy federal leader was also a sticking point at the 2020 election. Former DA heavyweight Mbali Ntuli, who stood against Steenhuisen at that time, made the proposal. Steenhuisen won the 2020 race with 79% of votes cast. 

The new DA leader is expected to be announced on Sunday afternoon.