South Africa

DA: Out with the old, in with the new

By Greg Nicolson 22 October 2013

Over 10% of the Democratic Alliance (DA) Parliamentary caucus will not run for election next year. Most of those not running have withdrawn due to “natural attrition”, but with new faces sure to be on offer the DA has a chance to continue to push young leaders from diverse backgrounds and challenge key criticisms. By GREG NICOLSON.

Experienced members of Parliament who will not run for re-election next year include veterans such as Watty Watson, Ian Davidson, Dene Smuts, Marti Wenger, Butch Steyn, Manie van Dyk, Stuart Farrow, Donald Lee, Donald Smiles and Marius Swart, reported Business Day on Monday. Four Gauteng MPs won’t be returning, along with three each from the Western Cape and Eastern Cape. The paper said about 10 MPs were understood to be leaving or retiring from politics.

“I have been worried about this for some time and I have been doing what I can to future-proof the caucus in that way,” said party Parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko. “But it also does present an opportunity as well because we are going to be a bigger caucus next year because the party will most certainly grow. There will also be a large number of new members, and possibly even the majority will be new.” She added: “I can predict that the caucus will be more diverse and that there will be a larger proportion of black members.”

The party is losing a wealth of experience. Watson was elected to Parliament in 2000 and is often seen facing off against the ANC as the party’s chief whip. Shadow Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ian Davidson, has been in Parliament since 1999 and is a former chief whip. Shadow Minister of Justice and Constitutional development, Dene Smuts, has been an MP since 1989, was the country’s first female whip and has served as a Democratic Party chairperson. Candidates chosen through the electoral colleges in each province will replace the MPs. Each candidate, new or old, is subjected to the system of selection.

The DA has been criticised for the number of white members in its Parliamentary caucus as it tries to portray itself as a party that will benefit all South Africans and dispel the notion that it is a party representing white interests. The party under leader Helen Zille has pushed for transforming the face of its leadership and focused on black rising stars such as Mazibuko, Mmusi Maimane, spokesperson and candidate for Gauteng premier, deputy national chairperson Makashule Gana, and youth leader Mbali Ntuli, who present a changing face of leadership.

The MPs Daily Maverick spoke to on Monday said the decision is not about making way for the new guard but rather personal choices.

Smuts said it has been a privilege to serve in Parliament throughout the democratic transition but “25 years is enough”. She said the cutoff to apply for 2014 candidacy closed long ago (it closed on 31 July) but she hasn’t talked much about her decision not to run because she still has work she wants to focus on before her time is up. Smuts will retire after her term finishes.

Davidson also said he is retiring after a long time in Parliament. He said he was a chief proponent of transformation and is happy about where the party is going. Interestingly, Davidson said there’s an added technical reason for his retirement. Parliament’s pension system is capped to a point where after years of experience not only does he not benefit, but he will lose out if he stays on.

Watson said he is turning 70 in 2014 and after being involved in one form or another of politics for 50 years he is ready to retire. “I’m very happy with the way the party is heading,” he said, adding that he holds Zille and Mazibuko in the “highest regard”. “If you look at where we are we have lots to offer.” Watson’s daughter is a councillor in Mpumalanga and he hopes in some way she can continue his work.

Maimane, the party’s national spokesperson, said the candidate selection process has been one of the most successful this year. “It’s competitive,” he said, because the DA brand is becoming more and more popular. Provinces are still working on choosing candidates for Parliament but the process needs to be finalised by the end of the year. It’s important to open up the process and choose those who have the merits for the positions, he said. “I don’t think we’ll lose that much experience,” he added, claiming it is part of “natural attrition” for the party’s candidates to change through elections.

Before Maimane was chosen as the DA candidate for Gauteng premier the key criticism when compared to his competitor Jack Bloom was his lack of experience in government. Yet he appeals more to voters on multiple levels and was chosen to lead the party’s push in the province and has been campaigning relentlessly, visiting communities on the “Believe” bus tour.

Crucial to the DA’s 2014 election hopes is for them to offer candidates that voters can relate to and believe in, as well as a plan people feel will take the country forward. Diversity is one component for choosing candidates and if the party continues to push young, diverse leaders who merit their positions it will surely help. But beyond that, the DA needs to keep trying to convince the electorate that it is the best party at delivering services and that rather than just criticising, it can also lead.

Long before going to the polls, however, critics will be looking at the DA’s list of candidates to see whether they have used the openings to promote transformation or offer more of the same. DM

Photo: Democratic Alliance (DA) party leaders walk toward the home of South African President Jacob Zuma at Nkandla. (REUTERS/Rogan Ward)

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