DA quietly tasting the bittersweet fruits of success

By Carien Du Plessis 16 September 2011

The ever-growing DA has in recent days seen out the old and sworn in the new with the youngest MP in parliamentary history, while lobbying for its mid-term elections has also started behind the scenes. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

As Parliament prepares to wind down its business towards the end of the third term next week, quiet lobbying (way quieter than the ANC’s supposed non-existent leadership race) has started within the ranks of the largest opposition party ahead of its mid-term election of caucus leaders.

These elections are unique to the DA and designed, among other reasons, to keep its public representatives on their toes.

Open lobbying is only likely to be permitted when MPs return from their recess at the beginning of October, but DA MPs said three possible candidates for the position of the party’s parliamentary leader have already emerged and are quietly testing the waters.

Current leader Athol Trollip (who famously accidentally directed a “stuur hom in sy moer in” email to a persistent ratepayer instead of a fellow MP) is likely to want to retain his position, while party spokeswoman Lindiwe Mazibuko and party chairman Wilmot James are also said to be interested in contending the position.

James and Mazibuko are unlikely to both run against Trollip, so as not to split the vote of those who want to see Trollip go (as in any organisation, there are some who do not like the straightforward Eastern Cape farmer’s style of management).

No date has been set for the mid-term elections yet, but chairman of the party’s federal executive, James Selfe, said these would take place 30 months after the last general elections – around the last week of September or the first week of October.

Party whips would also be up for re-election, but the chief whip is set to be nominated by the caucus leader, who is also the party’s parliamentary leader.

In the past two weeks, the party has seen yet more representatives coming and going, with veteran MP and former deputy chief whip Mike Ellis retiring after 24 years in Parliament, and the youngest member of Parliament, Geordin Hill-Lewis, 24, being sworn in last week.

Selfe said these changes were par for the course. “As the party gets bigger, more people will be coming and going. There is nothing unusual about it.”

There was a ruckus recently about the filling of a position in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), which became vacant when DA MP Theo Byleveldt died in July after a short illness. Members of the party’s “coloured caucus” in Cape Town felt aggrieved after what they interpreted as a snub of councillor Denis Joseph for the position. He was apparently told that he was on his way to Parliament, only to find out that a white party member was to be sworn in instead.

But Selfe claims there was merely some “confusion” about the lists as Joseph was on the list for the provincial legislature. “Province then assumed that this list was meant for the NCOP, but this process will be finalised on Friday afternoon only and the new MP will be announced,” he said.

Insiders reckon that Joseph was likely to get the job anyway to appease those who were pushing for him.

Over the past few weeks, the DA had tasted the bitter fruits of its electoral successes after negative media reports surfaced – first on alleged mismanagement of a communications tender by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s office, followed by allegations about a lack of transformation within the higher ranks of the party – which still mostly consists of white people.

Cosatu and the ANC in the Western Cape criticises the DA on a regular basis for not being “pro-poor” enough and for being too white, while candidates for leadership in the party are perceived to have exploited the race issue to enhance their chances.

The party is set to have its two-yearly leadership elections in the middle of next year again, and it is as yet unclear whether Zille would stand for a second term as party leader or step aside for a new candidate.

The party’s provincial structures are also due to choose new leaders in the meantime, with election cycles determined by each province – usually varying between one and two years.

A chaotic elections meeting of the DA Gauteng South region – one of the most powerful in the party – last month had to be aborted after there were some irregularities in the amount of ballot papers issued.

The fight had some racial undertones as the regional leader is reported to have written a letter claiming some party leaders were using race to contest the party’s internal elections.

In these elections, member of the provincial legislature Khume Ramulifho contested against City of Johannesburg councillor Cameron McKenzie. Ramulifho is reported to have wanted to be the first black person to lead this region.

The party denied the tensions in public. While the DA is fond of exploiting any sign of cracks in the ANC to its own advantage, it presumably doesn’t want to give the ruling party any similar gaps to weaken it. DM

Read more:

  • DA’s rising star sees bright future, one city at a time in Daily Maverick.



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