Dianne Kohler Barnard’s position as leader of the key Durban South constituency is safe for now, but the provincial leadership has warned she would be redeployed if there was a negative impact.
“We first need to check whether it will be negative or positive,” KwaZulu-Natal DA leader Zwakele Mncwango said today.
“If research on the ground shows a decline in support, then we will see where to redeploy her. I can’t sit back if my research shows that there will be an impact at the local elections next year.”
Right now, there was no indication that her presence was scaring potential supporters away, he said.
In fact, he and Kohler Barnard had both welcomed 70 ANC members into the DA at her constituency in Folweni, “a 100% black community” earlier this month, and there was no hostility towards her.
“From what I saw there is that I don’t see people having an issue with Dianne as a person.”
The DA last week announced MP Haniff Hoosen as the eThekwini mayoral candidate, and campaigning would begin in January.
“We hope to push the ANC below 50%. If we do that, then each vote counts. So we will be doing on the ground research and checking with individuals about any possible impact,” Mncwango said.
He added that the controversy should be an opportunity for the DA to open up a conversation about racism and apartheid and to “stop running away from open debate” which the ANC was leading.
“The DA has a stigma that we are a party of the past, with racists. It is true that this saga has somehow opened this all up. We need to discuss these issues openly and say where we stand.”
Kohler Barnard this week won her appeal against her expulsion from the party. In overturning the party’s Federal Executive decision, the Federal Legal Commission (FLC) appeal panel ruled that sanctions include her removal from all elected leadership positions but not her seat in the National Assembly. She thus retains her constituency role.
Kohler Barnard had pleaded guilty in a disciplinary hearing to bringing the party into disrepute for sharing a Facebook post that hankered after the days of apartheid leader PW Botha.
An FLC panel recommended a fine and other sanctions, but the federal executive had decided to impose the maximum sentence of expulsion.
The FLC has not yet released the reasons that the appeals panel arrived at its decision to overturn her expulsion this week.
The controversy has caused deep divisions in the party at a time that it is trying to shed its baggage and rebuild its image under the leadership of Mmusi Maimane.