Veteran campaigner JP Smith up against young contender Zahid Badroodien for key DA position in Cape Town
DA senior leader JP Smith is looking to add more roles to his already busy portfolio when he contests for the DA Cape Town chairperson position against Zahid Badroodien this weekend.
Veteran campaigner and politician JP Smith is contesting for the position of DA Cape Metro chairperson at the party’s regional congress this weekend, where he’s up against a younger, more inexperienced opponent — Dr Zahid Badroodien.
The region is the second-biggest and most financially stable metropolitan municipality in South Africa.
The DA in Cape Town has the monumental task of garnering maximum votes for the party in next year’s general elections, which will have a significant impact on its plans to retain the Western Cape and increase its national support.
After the 2016 local government elections, the party was in outright control of 15 municipalities in the province, but after the 2021 polls, it had a majority in only eight municipalities, with no party having a majority in the remainder of the province’s councils.
The party’s support has also been declining in provincial elections. In the 2014 provincial elections, the DA received 59.38% of votes cast in the Western Cape, which dropped to 55.45% in 2019.
Its regional congress this weekend has to elect a leader who will improve its fortunes and grow electoral support so that it does not lose the only province where the ANC is on the opposition benches.
Smith is a favourite to win the contest and already serves as a DA deputy federal chairperson nationally. He holds other leadership positions within the DA including deputy leader of the Cape Town caucus, deputy chairperson in the Cape Metro region and Western Cape provincial deputy chairperson.
This is the first time he is stepping forward to be regional chairperson, although he is sometimes referred to as the de facto mayor of Cape Town because of the number of positions he holds, his influence, and the fact that he has served under four regional chairpersons. The 52-year-old has decades of experience with the DA.
“It’s not just experience [that I bring],” he said. “I bring new ideas as well. I can show you four projects that have started where I proposed the idea, found the money for it, got it working and either have kept it running or found other people to run with it.”
Smith has no children and no extensive home life, which he says is the reason he can juggle multiple positions. He said he would not resign as deputy federal chairperson if he’s elected at the weekend.
“I will not be contesting in the upcoming provincial congress, I will be focusing on metro and I want to retain the deputy federal chairperson position because it is allowing me to start getting projects and initiatives.”
While Smith describes himself as an activist, he has a somewhat polarising history in the Cape Town region and caucus. For example, he was central in the Patricia De Lille saga before her resignation as Cape Town mayor.
Many regarded his utterances during the recent Western Cape taxi strike as inflammatory.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape Taxi Strike
However, he said he has worked hard to unify the party, to the point that some of his former detractors have endorsed his campaign.
“We are focused on the big goal, and that is saving South Africa next year because another five years of an ANC government might not leave much of South Africa to save.”
A report in 2018 by the DA leader John Steenhuisen, who was the party’s chief whip in Parliament, said that Smith had outgrown his position in the city council and it was time for him to move on to the provincial legislature or National Assembly.
“I have no interest in doing that,” he said. “I really love local government. I do not desire to sit [with] the opposition in the National Assembly. The ability to visit someone at their home, see the problem they are dealing with and resolve it. That is what drives me.”
Zahid Badroodien (32), a medical doctor now serving as the mayoral committee member for water and sanitation, was one of the DA’s youngest councillors when he was introduced to the council in 2016.
He also serves as a deputy chairperson on the executive committee.
Last year, he stepped down from his role after allegations that he had tampered with an electricity meter box on his property.
He went back to the position in March following a recommendation from the City of Cape Town’s disciplinary committee to give him a written warning. The committee said it could not prove that he had tampered with the electricity meter or that he was aware that it had been tampered with.
Badroodien said, “As a young member of the party who has served almost 15 years in various roles both politically and council, it is a personal objective to try and lead the DA into the future where we are attracting a diversity of votes we could not [previously acquire] for various reasons.”
He said his decision to join politics was largely influenced by his stint as a medical doctor in public hospitals. He was exposed to the daily realities of South Africans and realised that doctors can only do so much — what was needed was a political will to assist people.
“In the political space, you are able to make decisions and put policies and interventions together that can change people’s lives. People may not appreciate the impact that political decisions have on their daily lived experience, but I believe that sitting at 2 o’clock in the morning in an emergency centre in Khayelitsha and dealing with people who have been shot and stabbed shows me that a lot needs to happen.”
Badroodien was also involved in the De Lille saga, and as a young councillor at the time, he said he almost fell into the trap of factionalism in the party. He said people should always choose the party over those who may have entrenched themselves in leadership spaces.
“I am offering a new chance now for the party to refresh, to allow members to choose a new voice with a track record. A person who has proven himself in health and in the city when we had to work throughout the pandemic.”
Odds on JP Smith
Professor Dirk Kotzé from the Department of Political Science at the University of South Africa said the pattern in the DA is that senior persons are elected over young, up-and-coming candidates.
“JP Smith is therefore in a stronger position,” he said.
“He is one of the deputy federal chairs and has much more recognition value for the ordinary members, even if he is often controversial in his statements or actions. That includes his duel with Patricia de Lille when she was the mayor.
“Metro chair of Cape Town is one of the most key positions for the DA and therefore they will go for experience. My guess is that this decision will not be made with next year’s election as the main consideration, but rather how to manage DA members who are already in the fold.
“Zahid Badroodien has now registered his presence and that is normally how a member starts to make progress in a party. In other positions, he might have a better chance.”
Kevin Patel, from the Progressive Citizens Initiative, said Smith is the de facto leader of the DA in Cape Town.
“Not the mayor or the caucus can control him as was evident during the recent taxi stayaway. The mayor could not limit him on social media making threats and fuelling the anger of Santaco and its members.”
He said Premier Alan Winde was more skilled politically and would be a suitable challenger.
“But JP is the ‘mayor’ as he has been around in the council for years and that puts everyone, including the mayor, at a disadvantage.”
The regional congress will be held at the Civic Centre this weekend. DM