With less than a month to go before the DA heads to an elective conference described by insiders as a clash between its liberal and progressive camps, the battle for the party’s soul is about to get ugly.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane is expected to be re-elected at the congress, which will take place on April 6 in Tshwane. However, he will have to work to expand his support base within the party.
Maimane’s supporters told City Press he had achieved a lot in the party despite having to work with what was “essentially Helen [Zille’s] DA”.
“People look at Parliament and use that as the yardstick for transformation in the party, but that is not the case. Maimane has repeatedly called for transformation in those benches, even when it made him unpopular.
“Those changes will come next year. When he emerges from the conference, you will see him come into his own as a leader,” one supporter said.
Newly appointed policy head Gwen Ngwenya has been met with a cold reception by some members of the DA who claim she was brought on board to “black face” the party’s conservative agenda.
The DA is divided between those who believe the party should invest more in retaining its traditional support base instead of trying to lure new voters.
Maimane has led the campaign to break the voter ceiling and gain the trust of black voters who previously snubbed the DA.
Internal polls also indicate that Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment as president of the ANC has dealt the DA a serious blow.
Rumour has it that Ngwenya was roped in to take over from Maimane after being fielded as the party’s preferred candidate for the position of Gauteng premier in next year’s elections.
Given her “conservative” approach, insiders believe the move would take the DA five steps backwards.
Ngwenya poured cold water on the claims.
“I am not vying for the federal leader position.
“I also saw an article that claimed I was earmarked to be the DA’s premier candidate, but I would not accept the nomination.
“I am focused on making sure the DA develops a strong policy offering before [it embarks on] its election campaign,” Ngwenya said.
“If it’s progressive to have a black person as head of policy and regressive to have a right wing member, then maybe having a black person who some view as right wing should cancel everything out.
“They’re struggling to put me in a box but it’s amusing to watch people try.
“I think it’s too early to make assumptions about what my appointment as head of policy means. Let’s just wait and see.”
Ngwenya left her job as chief operating officer of the Institute of Race Relations to serve the party.
She also served as a DA youth leader while she was studying at the University of Cape Town.
Ngwenya said she returned to the party after she was told there was a vacancy in Parliament.
“I was told that if I took the post, I might get a chance to head the party’s policy department.
“Ultimately, the DA is a liberal party. It has to be a party that has something to offer all voters and that is why I am interested in developing policies that speak to everyone.”
Meanwhile, the party’s so-called black caucus is also showing fractures ahead of the conference and the looming battle for the position of premier in Gauteng, where the DA thinks it has a real shot at governing.
The black caucus in Gauteng is divided over Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga’s decision to challenge his Nelson Mandela Bay counterpart Athol Trollip for the position of federal chairperson at next month’s congress.
Insiders claimed the decision was not made collectively.
“It is dividing us because we don’t even know who is running his campaign at this stage.
There is not much communication,” one Gauteng leader said.
Western Cape Finance MEC Ivan Meyer and Free State chairperson Annelie Lotriet were also tipped to take the position. Nominations close on Friday.
The removal of Trollip – who wields great influence in the party – would signal a significant shift in the party’s direction.
Mabine Seabe, the party’s director of communication said congress will prepare the party for next year’s election.
Seabe said: “The congress will mark the start of our 2019 election campaign.
“From congress we will start the process of launching premier candidate campaigns in all provinces. Then we will hit the ground.”