DA in Crisis

Party scrambles to control narrative ahead of policy conference

By Rebecca Davis 3 September 2020
Caption
Illustrative image | sources: Candidate for DA Leader, Mbali Ntuli. (Photo: Gallo Images/ Darren Stewart) / DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)

The DA should be focusing on its policy conference, which takes place online at the end of the week. Instead, it is scrambling to contain the damage caused by a scene that is causing déjà vu: a senior DA leader publicly resigning from the party with unsparing criticism.

On Thursday morning, the DA is set to hold a press conference to fight back against the very public and brutal Wednesday resignation of its Gauteng provincial leader, John Moodey.

Moodey, a DA member for 22 years, told journalists that a culture of “trumped-up charges” and spurious disciplinary processes had taken root in the party.

Gauteng leader John Moodey quits DA, citing ‘purge’ of dissenting views

He claimed that such disciplinary action was increasingly used to root out dissent and “purge” leaders in the party who have fallen out of favour with a central cabal consisting of federal council chair Helen Zille, interim leader John Steenhuisen and chosen allies.

Moodey said that when he “dared to put [his] hat in the ring” to contest the leadership of the party, he was slapped with disciplinary charges.

Among them, he said, was the charge of “allegedly being involved in a conspiracy to frame a senior DA parliamentarian on charges of soliciting sex for jobs”.

It is this unpleasant topic that Moodey’s acting replacement, Solly Msimanga, will broach at Thursday’s press conference, flanked by the party’s chief whip, Natasha Mazzone, and spokesperson Refiloe Nt’sekhe.

Daily Maverick has learnt from two senior DA figures, speaking on condition of anonymity, that the “sex-for-jobs” scandal relates to DA MP Mike Waters, the party’s former deputy chief whip.

At least two junior councillors are said to have accused Waters of soliciting sex from them in exchange for some kind of political favour. Yet the party’s investigation into the matter appears to have rapidly shifted focus to Moodey, who is charged with putting pressure on the two councillors in question to falsely accuse Waters.

Speaking to Daily Maverick on Wednesday evening, Moodey said he had not yet seen the details of the charges against him – which are expected to be publicly revealed at Thursday’s briefing. Moodey said one of the junior councillors had contacted him via telephone for reassurance, due to fear, before submitting an affidavit containing the claims against Waters.

“I spoke to them, as anyone would do to someone dealing with trauma,” said Moodey, denying both that he had “belittled” Waters or any other party figure, and that he had tried to influence the councillor to lay a charge. There are many questions still to be answered around this bizarre saga.

But Moodey’s central claim – that party disciplinary processes are being abused to “purge” individuals considered problematic or undesirable – is shared by several other senior DA figures.

“The purge is real,” one told Daily Maverick, adding that the charges being brought against individuals range from money laundering to bringing the party into disrepute through seemingly innocuous social media posts.

During Wednesday’s press briefing, Moodey claimed that six of the DA’s nine provincial leaders are facing disciplinary charges.

“It’s not true,” the DA’s federal legal commission chair Glynnis Breytenbach told Daily Maverick.

Breytenbach was in transit and did not have access to the relevant information, but said that offhand she could think of only two provincial leaders – including Moodey – in this position. She acknowledged that some of the charges being laid were “fairly nebulous”.

An overheating internal disciplinary system is one response to what Steenhuisen recently bemoaned as a culture of “ill-discipline” within the party. He named the problem to News24 as the party’s “Achilles heel”. Perhaps tellingly, his rival for the October leadership election, Mbali Ntuli, suggested that the party’s central issue was, instead, “the lack of trust voters have in us to change the country”.

There are already indications that the remaining DA top brass will seek to downplay Moodey’s resignation and accompanying criticism as the bitter reaction of a tainted individual – a playbook they have used repeatedly in the past in similar situations.

But Moodey is not Herman Mashaba, the former DA Johannesburg mayor who was in effect parachuted into his role.

Moodey, who has worked as a DA public representative for two decades and served as Gauteng provincial leader for four consecutive terms, is the definition of a party veteran. He also won respect across the board for his hard work and dedication, offering particularly eagle-eyed oversight into the ailing Gauteng health system.

One DA figure told Daily Maverick that the conference was likely to be a “non-event” aimed at “rubber-stamping” the policies prepared by Ngwenya and her team.

The emotional resignation of a DA stalwart should prompt serious introspection from the party’s top ranks, rather than defensive attempts to retrospectively tarnish his legacy.

Moodey has set the cat among the pigeons in a week when the DA is supposed to be focusing on its policy conference, to be held online from 5-6 September. At the conference, three policy papers produced by the party’s policy team, led by Gwen Ngwenya, are set to be discussed.

Ngwenya did not respond to questions from Daily Maverick this week, including a query as to whether the policy suggestions the DA solicited from the public via an online portal had been incorporated for discussion.

Daily Maverick was separately informed that journalists will not be permitted to witness the proceedings, as it is an “internal conference”.

Some conference attendees were surprised to receive an email from Zille this week instructing them to submit proposed amendments to the draft policies in writing ahead of the conference. This measure is believed to be designed to mitigate the risk of tense exchanges from the “floor” at what is clearly already a tense time for the party.

It has, however, heightened concerns over whether proceedings will be truly democratic. Daily Maverick understands that another point of unhappiness is why the conference is limiting its discussion to only the three policy papers – on Values and Principles, Economic Justice and Local Government – rather than covering, in addition, areas such as education and land.

One DA figure told Daily Maverick that the conference was likely to be a “non-event” aimed at “rubber-stamping” the policies prepared by Ngwenya and her team.

And while it has been suggested by pundits that the conference may offer clues as to the direction the October leadership election will take, party insiders joke wryly that the priority of attendees may be to get through proceedings “without being charged”.

One thing is certain: it is Moodey’s resignation rather than the policy conference that will dominate media headlines and the public consciousness this week. That might not be what the party’s leadership was hoping for, but it may embolden the “many more” DA members who Moodey says share his concerns to fight for the party’s future. DM

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  • Sorry to say but our two largest parties, for the sake of the entire country, need to explode to atmosphere and then, maybe, the many parts can fall down to Africa in brand new natural affinities that make sense and have new names. I doubt any freedom parties ever made a success as that same party here or elsewhere. Freedom parties are unnatural partners united only in a common enemy. Pretty much, if we don’t sort this now (1994 solved little), we will lose. Lose skilled young people, lose wealthy local investors, deflect foreign investors, break all the promises of the Constitution. Zim 2 outcome.

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