John Steenhuisen Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – The election of a white male to the helm of the DA is “unsurprising” and will preserve white interests, the ANC said following John Steenhuisen’s election as the opposition party’s interim leader yesterday. 

Steenhuisen won the contest for the official opposition's top post, beating Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana, and replacing Mmusi Maimane who resigned as the party's leader last month.

Western Cape Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer has been elected the new interim federal chairperson to replace Athol Trollip, who resigned in solidarity with Maimane. 

Lerumo Kalako, ANC convener of the interim provincial committee, said: “We knew this would be the outcome.

"The DA is dominated by former National Party members and this is the DA showing its head again. The DA belongs to an alliance of conservative white party members, which continues to preserve white interests.

“The DA is going back to their party of old. They have worked on a project they thought they could run, with blacks and coloureds being used as stooges in a modern form as the National Party tried.

“The DA represents white privilege and white capital in particular. This was the pressure from white capital to have Steenhuisen appointed.”

Maimane had accused the DA of being infested with people who were deliberately working to ensure his vision for the party was frustrated, including policies of redress.

Among those who were openly opposed to the direction of the DA under Maimane were current federal council chairperson Helen Zille, whose election into the post last month saw Johannesburg mayor and Maimane ally Herman Mashaba resigning.

Addressing the media after his election, Steenhuisen said while the DA believed the legacy of apartheid had to be corrected, race had to be removed in redress as a proxy.

“We don't need to resort to crude racial classification to do so. We can target redress policies directly where they need to be, at the poorest in our society, almost all of whom happens to be black South Africans.”

Steenhuisen said policies that had used race as a proxy had been tried by the ANC government and that they had failed to address poverty and inequality.

In what could be seen as a clear swipe at Maimane’s leadership, Steenhuisen said the party would now have to stop lacking certainty on what it actually stood for. 

“It is very important that we set out our story. We set out clearly who we are, what we are about and what we are fighting for. 

"No more blue wobbly jelly at the centre of politics. We need to be firm and unwavering about the principles that our party stands for.”

Maimane had been known as a vocal critic of the ANC.

But Steenhuisen said the party under his leadership would have to cease always being on the ANC's case. We have got the duty to hold the ANC accountable where we are in opposition, but I think we also have a duty to set out very clearly not how bad things are under the ANC, but how great things can be under the DA,” he said. 

Steenhuisen said he did not backstab Maimane, as his former chief whip, saying he had served him with loyalty as he led the party.

“He had a role to play in the party. He has done some great things in the party, and yes the review shows there are some errors, that we did not do so well as leadership and we need to address those going forward.”

Political scientist at the UWC Keith Gottschalk said while the top leader of a party can be a person of any colour, the symbolism as a whole should reflect the full spectrum of the rainbow nation.

This was important for all parties, he said.

“It can project, or fail to project, a strong message of non-racialism.

“When the DA next year elects the full complement of its top leadership, South Africans will notice and comment on the extent to which it shows a rainbow nation.”

Cape Times