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Mpho Phalatse vs John Steenhuisen – who will win?

Mpho Phalatse vs John Steenhuisen – who will win?
Former Johannesburg mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

Former Johannesburg mayor, Mpho Phalatse, wants his job, but John Steenhuisen looks set for a second term as DA leader and is likely to be the face of the party for the 2024 general elections.

Fresh from being voted out of Johannesburg’s mayoral office, Mpho Phalatse launched her campaign on Monday to become leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) at the party’s federal congress in April.

The telegenic and popular doctor-turned-politician will run on her understanding of the “astute challenges of government” as an executive mayor and a member of the mayoral executive under Herman Mashaba.

The DA will campaign in 2024 as a party that ran good governments wherever it headed the administration.

Asked what governing strengths Phalatse would campaign on, a supporter said her plans for mitigating load shedding, balancing a precarious city budget and taking a firm line on corruption by reconstituting Johannesburg’s disciplinary board, would count in Phalatse’s favour.

Then mayor Mpho Phalatse during a media briefing regarding the City’s interventions to manage and mitigate rolling blackouts, City of Jhb Council Chamber, 26 January 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Handful of supporters

But only a few Johannesburg councillors attended Phalatse’s Soweto launch on Monday, where there were more journalists than supporters in attendance.

The closest officials from her year in office are not part of her campaign. Phalatse has two months to win the support of delegates to the party’s federal congress that takes place in April.

“It’s safe to say an incumbent has an advantage,” said a supporter of Phalatse, referring to party leader John Steenhuisen. He is a popular leader in the DA and has already won significant support to get his second term, according to his supporters.

He was elected federal leader in November 2020 after serving as an interim leader when Mmusi Maimane quit. Steenhuisen has the support of many voting blocs who will elect new leaders in April, including councillors, branch members from vote-rich DA constituencies, and the party’s MPs and members of provincial legislatures.

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Steenhuisen was a councillor in Durban for many years and his knowledge of, and empathy for, the tough challenges faced by ward councillors has won him support from the most powerful group at the federal congress.

Steenhuisen is also seen to have stabilised the party and dealt with the cliques and leaks that had come to characterise the DA.

John Steenhuisen

DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

While Phalatse is popular in the DA, strategists say she should have taken a seat as an MP in 2024, when there will be a national election, and then launched a bid for leadership in 2026.

She led a tough coalition government in Johannesburg and faced two motions of no confidence, the second of which she conceded. Her court battle against an earlier power grab by the unstable coalition won her many plaudits. But she leaves behind a shattered Johannesburg for which she had good ideas to fix, but this is a city so battered that her government could not make much of an impact in such a short time.

With Phalatse as the face of the party, the DA would get 35% of the vote in 2024, said her campaign manager, Solomon Maila, who is also a manager of the party’s Johannesburg caucus.

‘Support across provinces’

He said Phalatse had support across provinces and that many people in the party were not happy with the prospect of Steenhuisen being the face of the party’s election campaign in 2024.

Maila said that with Steenhuisen as party leader, the DA could secure less than the 22% it managed in the 2021 local government poll.

“John welcomes the challenge and welcomes Mpho Phalatse’s willingness to stand. No leader is ordained or hand-picked,” said Steenhuisen’s campaign manager, Ashor Sarupen, adding, “John’s chances are looking strong.”

The following extract from the DA’s constitution shows how the party chooses delegates for its congress. The make-up favours incumbents:

The Federal Council or Federal Executive shall determine the number of Congress delegates, which shall comprise:

    1. The Federal Leader
    2. The Federal Chairperson
    3. The three Deputy Federal Chairpersons
    4. The Chairperson and two Deputy Chairpersons of the Federal Council
    5. The Federal Chairperson of Finance
    6. The Chief Executive Officer, without voting rights
    7. Any co-opted members of the Federal Executive
    8. The Provincial Leader, one Deputy Provincial Leader and the Provincial Chairperson, if any, per province
    9. All Members of Parliament and Members of Provincial Legislatures
    10. The balance of Congress shall comprise:

Local government councillors equal to five times the number of Members of Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures in the country allocated to the provinces based on the proportion of votes obtained by the party in that province in the last election of a national nature;

Non-public representative delegates allocated to branches and elected by a proportional voting system approved by the Federal Council or Federal Executive, which shall not comprise less than 45% of the total Congress delegates;

The Federal Leader, the Federal Chairperson and Provincial Chairpersons of the Democratic Alliance Youth;

The Federal Leader, the Federal Chairperson and Provincial Leaders of the Democratic Alliance Women’s Network;

The Chairperson of the Association of Democratic Alliance Councillors, or their nominee, and the Provincial Chairperson of the Association of Democratic Alliance Councillors in each province, if not already a delegate in another capacity;

The DA Abroad Leader or their nominee;

Nine other delegates from DA Abroad were allocated according to a formula approved by the Federal Council; and

Other persons invited by the Federal Leader or the Federal Chairperson, with the approval of the Federal Council, provided that such persons may not vote. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Who actually runs the DA? Steenhuizen or Zille?

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    Steenhuisen may be a popular DA leader but I personally have serious doubts about the upper echelons of the party. And his “roadkill” remark was so callous, utterly beyond the pale for me.
    It’s high time in any case that the DA is no longer seen as primarily a white party. If it’s going to make any progress at all in bringing down the ANC it’s high time that quality people like Phalatse were welcomed in the party.

  • John Pearse says:

    Sad that as the DA shows the way leading into the next election, Mpho Phalatse should deliberately rock the boat by holding her own selfish ambitions above those of the party and the country. If she remained patient, higher office would come naturally at the right time.

    • John Smythe says:

      When reading the article, I thought exactly the same thing. She could be a strong protege instead of a wrecking ball. Maimane wrecked a lot during his tenure and the DA are crawling their way back up to where they were. They don’t need this now. After 2024 is a better time to play with the leadership. But I worry that if she loses, then she’ll scoot off to Action SA (which is actually a nowhere party) and the DA will lose another Lindiwe Mazibuko.

      • Mary Hammond-Tooke says:

        I agree completely with Joe Bloggs!!!!

      • William Stucke says:

        Agreed, Joe.
        She is young, and needs experience before shooting for the top. She’d be ideal to challenge in 2016 as DA Leader. Meantime, she should be working like crazy to get Joburg back. She did some great work, and showed true DA spirit in addressing the needs of the voters, not herself, unlike most of hyenas elected by our uncaring populace.

        As for her having a husband in ActionSA, that raises a huge red flag.

      • William Stucke says:

        On another note:
        Joe Bloggs, I thought that DM had a policy of only allowing real names, but I see that quite a few people are not doing so. Care to comment?

        And I see that others have their surnames duplicated. Maybe DM needs to look at how they register Insiders?

  • L Dennis says:

    This is so disappointing i remembered when Phalatse was speaking about the dire situation Johannesburg was in and how she decided she needed to get involved in fixing it. Johannesburg needs you. The race card is deflection politics. Phalatse please continue your good work in Johannesburg. Focus on building of what the Da has done up until now. Every politician needs tenure and more experience before they can become a potential leader. I pray for peace i pray for God to bless our beautiful country.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      I agree. Surely the electorate in Joburg realise that the removal of Phalatse as mayor exposed the motives of the ANC, EFF, and the PA. At least the PA are open about their motives. They want mayoral committee posts that have access to potentially lucrative contracts.
      The DA in Joburg, led by Phalatse, should throw all the resources possible at convincing citizens of Joburg that if the want good governance, then they must give the DA an overall majority.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Maybe with her “face” as her campaign manager says it, she would increase the DA share of the electorate. However, a concern I have is a report in a local newspaper that her husband is a member of an opposition part.

  • Meirion Griffiths says:

    Surely, common sense dictates that the only criterion that should be considered is which leader will generate the most votes for the party in 2024. The higher the party’s vote percentage, the stronger the DA’s position will be in negotiating a coalition. And regardless of his copious abilities, Steenhuisen needs to take a back seat.

    • William Kelly says:


    • William Kelly says:

      Steenhuizen is a skilled orator. So was Maimane. The DA makes the dangerous mistake of conflating this with an actual ability to lead. The two are not the same. What the DA needs, and not as a policy of it’s own making, is a leader who can draw in black support, and in fact any support now that voters have given up on politics as having any credibility, by providing a clear vision, clear decisive leadership and above all else, inspiration to follow. Not this ‘the DA won’t do what the ANC does’ crap or ‘ooooo look at what the ANC did now’ nonsense. Heavens above. It’s not rocket science.

  • Caroline Hart says:

    The DA’s modus operandi of throwing their own DA mayors/candidates to the wolves, is not serving the cities of South Africa. If this party ever gracefully conceded the mayoralty, that they have not won outright to another coalition partner, we could have had DA Speaker and most of the vital MMC posts negotiated to them where they could have demonstrated the DA difference.
    Further, they could have steered the ousted Mayor toward premiership, as they did with Helen Zille, if they had even vaguely retained any significant positions within the City of Joburg.
    But once again the DA has chosen to flog the dead, self-righteous horse they rode in on.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Both are great choices to lead the DA. I would like Steenhuisen to take over from Zille and Phalatse to take over from Steenhuisen. Zille must stay close to both of them.

  • L Dennis says:

    In every coalition so far with any other parties its always been absolute chaos. Not once has anyone of these coalitions put policy and people at the centre of all their actions all self gratification and self enrichment. Hence for the DA to compromise in such a manner as u suggest is nothing more than a sell out. The DA would not stand for that. God bless the DA for their unselfish serving of our people.

  • L Dennis says:

    Thought the comment throwing their DA mayor to the wolves sounded familiar. Herman Mashaba made a similar statement in defense of Phalatse. Also Phalatse got married to a member of the opposition party december 2022 from action SA. Now this whole article makes perfect sense. Alterior motives comes to light. I will keep on praying for our beautiful country. Nkosi sikelela iafrika. May this anthem triumph over all the plotters of destruction.

  • Kim Webster says:

    Ms Phalatse is outstanding. You go girl! Be a fabulous Premier too. Depends on the voting members who is elected. Meanwhile Action SA is desperately wooing her (as they do so many of the properly trained DA staff)

  • Glyn Silberman says:

    While I think John Steenhuizen is doing an excellent job, I also think Mpho Phalatse will be an excellent leader of the DA. PLUS she is black, and in SA that will get votes which the DA needs to get even close to having a real say in running SA.

  • Mervyn Lieberthal says:

    Hopefully neither. the DA needs a leader who can can show leadership qualities give solutions and not stand and point fingers . Also time for Zille to go and sit in the sun.

  • PETER BAKER says:

    Keep them both numero uno and duo… the DA must from this moment have an epiphany and not hope but irrefutably belief that will be the next government….we simply can’t survive another nano second under even one gene let alone chromosome of anc genetic material anywhere near the strings of power…. The anc has either broken lost or stolen the actual levers…they make as the go.. sort of like filibuster for all to laugh at. Furthermore believe they are the only ones who can fix what they admit they fu*ked.. …. They have no skaams…it’s ABANC ….ANYBODY BUT THE ANC

  • Joe Irwin says:

    Without attracting non white members and supporters, the DA is unlikely to increase it percentage of the national vote.
    Ms Phalatse could be the person to attract those voters. I also believe that it would be better if she waited until John Steenhuisen finished his second term, but that may be too late. The ANC has never been more vulnerable than it is now.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Whilst on the question of colour….Her choice of lipstick colour worries me! Otherwise I’m happy to support her should she win the nomination!

  • Johan Buys says:

    I heard a good part of an interview with her today on SAFM and she was pretty convincing. It’d be hard finding a more compelling candidate. Humble roots, hard worker and high achiever, been in opposition, been in majority, been in coalition. Steenhuizen has not governed anything and the DA’s main election driver will be service delivery.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Sometimes you need to look whether your ambitions and capacity match to avoid making a fool of yourself. It may be called democracy in politics but it is plain stupidity in my book. She does not even have the support of her Province and she will be a joke at that Conference. A pretence of democracy would have been made at her expense.
    She seems to be oblivious to the structure of the DA and how it is configured in a way that she would never win. She seems to have not learnt anything from the previous conference. A politician who has no ability to read the internal dynamics within his or her party is not worth a cent. Unless she wants to prove that she cannot win she can go ahead and she may have to deal with burnt bridges but there are clinics and hospitals that want her services as she would be a spent force in politics.

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