Johannesburg - While newly-elected DA leader John Steenhuisen has vowed to give the ANC a run for its money, a political analyst says South Africans are now likely to scrutinise the diversity of the party’s leadership and the manner in which it has treated black leaders in order to make sense of Steenhuisen’s election.
“For example, when visitors to the public gallery in Parliament look down, they see a slab of white faces in the DA benches. Will this change when the DA selects candidates for the 2024 elections?
“Some DA leaders of colour have complained that DA disciplinary complaints are ‘weaponised’ against them, to hurt their careers,” analyst Keith Gottschalk said.
The official opposition party has over time received huge backlash over its lack of representativeness.
Moreover, while some of the moves previously made by the party in its recent policy conference was to exclude race from its economic policies as well as in its values, there was also vast criticism that this would drive away black voters.
But Steenhuisen, who took over as interim leader of the party after the resignation of Mmusi Maimane late last year, said under his leadership the party would self-correct.
Maimane’s resignation precipitated the departure of other black leaders in the party, accusing it of being captured by conservatives opposed to redress.
“There have been times when the DA failed to be a dependable ally in the people’s fight for power and for a while we lost sight of who we were and what we offer, clear principled and decisive leadership.
“Fortunately, mistakes don’t have to be fatal provided we learn the lessons from them,” Steenhuisen said.
Steenhuisen went up against fellow contender KwaZulu-Natal member of the provincial legislature and former DA national youth leader Mbali Ntuli for the top job.
Delivering his acceptance speech at the end of the two-day virtual congress, Steenhuisen said the DA would under his leadership offer “people power” and not state control as he said was the case with the ANC-led government.
“We are going to fight and give ownership to every law-abiding, honest and hard-working citizen regardless of their background, to build a life that they value,” he said.
Meanwhile, the newly elected DA leadership includes Helen Zille as chairperson of the federal council while James Masango and Thomas Walters were elected her deputies.
Ivan Meyer was elected unopposed as federal chairperson with Refiloe Nt’sekhe, Anton Bredell and Jacques Smalle elected as his first, second and third deputies respectively.
Following the party’s bad performance in last year’s general elections, which coincided with electoral growth for the Freedom Front Plus, the DA has subsequently pushed for stricter adherence to what it calls its core liberal values to win back support.
Steenhuisen said the party had in the last year embarked “on an existing journey of introspection to fix that which was broken within our party” which he said would be intensified under his stewardship.
“I can tell you today that the days of breaking trust with South Africans are well and truly over. Under my leadership, the DA will never again turn our back on our core principles.
“We are a liberal party committed to non-racialism, a social market economy and a capable state that empowers citizens and cares for the vulnerable,” he said.
Resolutions adopted by the party included outlawing cadre deployment and the deregulation of the labour market and collective bargaining to create jobs, among other things.