South Africa

DA’s 2019 Gauteng ambitions divide party ahead of provincial election

By Greg Nicolson 17 November 2017

The DA believes it can win Gauteng in 2019, or at least govern after forming a coalition. The province is split as two candidates have been engaging in an ugly battle prior to contesting the position of DA Gauteng leader this weekend. By GREG NICOLSON.

Over the next few months, many employees in the DA’s national office will move from Cape Town to a Johannesburg building the party has secured in Bruma. The relocation will bring them closer to Gauteng voters, who make up a large proportion of the national electorate, and make it easier to access other key provinces. The DA believes it can lead Gauteng after the 2019 elections. Perhaps it can even lead the country.

The party’s ambitions in Gauteng have led to divisions over who will be elected Gauteng leader as the DA heads to a provincial conference this weekend. Ghaleb Cachalia, the newcomer who lacks experience within the party but has a politically prominent surname, is challenging John Moodey, the incumbent who has risen through the ranks and overseen the DA’s recent growth in Gauteng. The province is the party’s future and both candidates have been accused of using “dirty tricks”.

The first issue is experience. Moodey was elected leader in 2012 and said on Thursday that when he was elected he began a campaign to organise “an army of activists” to sell the DA as an alternative in the townships, where the party needs to win votes. “We changed how we do things. For the first time ever we showed the ANC that we could bring out the masses,” he said, citing the DA’s 2012 march on Cosatu House.

Moodey said that under his leadership the ANC’s provincial vote declined in Gauteng from around 64% to 53% between 2009 and 2014. In the 2016 municipal elections the ANC fell below 50% in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni and the DA forged coalitions to lead Johannesburg and Tshwane. He said successes came down to mobilising in townships, where the DA still faces accusations of representing white South Africans and of wanting to bring back apartheid. “That is where my strength lies, in mobilising of communities,” said Moodey.

Ian Ollis, who has backed Cachalia and is the DA’s shadow minister for labour, said, “John is not the catalyst of the DA’s electoral successes. I would like his supporters to specify what he did. It’s a claim they make without substance. The DA has been incrementally growing for decades.

I think John has now run his course. It’s time for the DA to rejuvenate itself with new ideas and new enthusiasm,” said Ollis. “I support Ghaleb as a liberal with conviction and new ideas. He can clearly articulate why the DA is the solution to many of SA’s problems and he can answer real, felt needs of the public. He also understands oppression and the history of the country but is forward looking, not naval gazing.”

If the DA is to win Gauteng outright in 2019 it believes it needs support from an additional 1.6-million voters. Moodey’s supporters say his experience in the party, having risen slowly through the ranks, and having worked on past campaigns and with coalition partners, makes him the best candidate. Moodey said the choice was between “a tried and tested, trusted leader over someone who is relatively new”.

Cachilia’s parents were prominent members of the anti-apartheid movement but until he recently joined the DA he wasn’t known as a significant political actor. He ran as the DA’s candidate for mayor of Ekurhuleni in the 2016 elections. The ANC fell under 50% in the city but formed a coalition to retain office. After 10 months leading the municipal caucus in opposition, Cachalia went to the National Assembly as an MP.

If we keep doing the same thing over and over again I think we’re fooling ourselves,” said Cachalia on Thursday. He said the DA’s election results in Gauteng had flat-lined under Moodey and the party had gained ground in the legislature and councils mostly because ANC supporters were rejecting their own party, while not supporting the DA.

Cachalia said decisive action needed to be taken to overcome the “huge stretch” between the DA and ANC and new ideas were “sorely” needed. “It’s kind of make or break right now.”

He said the networks between the party and its activists needed to be improved so local-level activists could play a greater role. “I’m no novice in politics. Politics runs in my blood,” he said, citing his upbringing and then his experience working as a strategist for private multinationals.

Tsepo Mhlongo, DA Johannesburg deputy chair and a party MP who supports Cachalia, said the candidate had shown a lot of talent in his relatively short time in the party:

Our dependence on the favour of the EFF in the metros shows we have to go for outright wins rather than hope for coalitions which do not allow us to properly implement our ideas.”

Mhlongo touched on a number of key points in the DA’s Gauteng election race. The party believes it can run the province after 2019, but its coalitions in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, plus the chaos in Mogale City, have raised concerns over how it campaigns and the sacrifices it has to make once in a coalition government.

Cachalia comes off as more of a hardline DA liberal while Moodey stresses his negotiation skills. “We can’t talk to voters and say what are their hot buttons,” said Cachalia. He said the party has to stick to its non-negotiable values to differentiate itself from the ANC. He wouldn’t say that under Moodey the DA had been too flexible with the sacrifices it made in coalitions, but said, “We need to be mindful of that slide.”

Vasco da Gama, the DA’s Speaker in the City of Johannesburg, who backs Moodey’s re-election, said winning Gauteng in 2019 is the ultimate target and the party needs stability and continuation of leadership. “We are on the right course and we should continue on this course.” He said Moodey gave DA regions a plan during the past elections and ensured they stuck to it. Da Gama said Moodey had the relationships and experience with other opposition parties to hold the current coalitions together and build new ones after 2019.

Moodey’s supporters say Cachalia has little to offer but claims of offering change and lacks the experience to take the DA forward. “I’m saying [Cachalia] needs a lot of experience to navigate through these issues,” said Da Gama. Moodey questioned claims that his opponent would offer “new blood”.

Well, there is nothing to offer from the other side, to be honest. They talk about something ‘new’ – what new? They talk about something ‘fresh’ – what fresh?”

Several contacts said the DA Gauteng election race was the dirtiest they had experienced and despite commitments from the opponents to run a fair campaign both sides were aggrieved at the tactics used.

I have never had it, quite frankly, as unfortunate as what is [now] – leaked emails, smear campaigns, negative campaigns. It’s sad,” said Moodey.

Cachalia said, “It certainly hasn’t come from us. I must say though that I’m disappointed from the negativity that has emerged.”

The DA’s Gauteng congress will take place on Saturday at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, and in addition to the provincial leader’s position will also see those of chairperson, deputy chairperson, youth chairperson and women’s network chairperson contested. DM

Photo: John Moodey (DA photo) and Ghaleb Cachalia (Greg Nicolson)

Gallery

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