Cape Town - After long deliberations, academic-turned-politician Wilmot James on Friday confirmed that he would run against Mmusi Maimane for the leadership of the Democratic Alliance.
“I can confirm that I have decided to stand for the position of Federal Leader of the Democratic Alliance,” James said.
He said he had received “overwhelming support from colleagues and friends” and had been encouraged to make himself available to succeed Helen Zille when she steps down next month after eight years at the helm.
“I will therefore spend the next two weeks sharing my vision for the future of our party and our country with delegates who will be attending the Democratic Alliance’s Federal Congress in Nelson Mandela Bay on 09/10 May 2015.”
Prominent DA MP David Maynier said he would be steering James’s campaign.
“I believe Wilmot James is ready to lead and that he is the best candidate to take the party forward,” Maynier told ANA.
“He has my full support and I will be running his campaign.”
Maimane’s campaign is driven by MP Gavin Davis, a trusted Zille advisor, along with Geordhan Hill-Lewis, and has the active support of DA chief whip John Steenhuisen.
This means that the DA’s parliamentary caucus, which still bears the scars of the infighting around Lindiwe Mazibuko’s tenure as parliamentary leader, will once again be bitterly divided.
“I fear that it is going to be a bruising battle, though thankfully it will be brief,” given Zille’s last-minute decision on April 12 to bow out, a member of the Maimane camp said.
Those around Maimane - who is tipped as the clear favourite - say his campaign will be relentlessly positive, driving home his vision of the DA as the party that delivers fresh hope for the future for all South Africans, rather than conflict with other contenders for the top job.
“Mmusi’s vision for South Africa is a place where every individual has the freedom to make their own choices about the way they to live,” his campaign notes read.
It concedes that this freedom is hollow without economic power and says he will “put entrepreneurship and individual empowerment at the heart of the DA’s plans to grow the economy and jobs”.
Maimane is believed to have the support of at least six provincial DA leaders at this stage. Gauteng leader John Moody, who considered running for the national leadership but confirmed that he will not, is believed to be ready to throw his weight behind him. He also has the support of Athol Trollip, who will stand for federal chairman – James’s current position – at the party’s May congress.
Sources confirm that Zille’s decision about her future was clinched by Trollip’s ambitions because she could neither prevail upon him to step back, as she did when Mazibuko wanted to become parliamentary leader, nor could she countenance the idea of an all-white line-up in top echelons of the party, which can only grow its vote share of 22 percent significantly by securing more black support.
However, both Trollip and Maimane’s close advisors have been unequivocal that he is not an active member of the parliamentary leader’s bid for the party reins. In this regard, James’ decision is seen as a boon by Maimane’s supporters. Having to slug it out with James weakens any perception that he was simply imposed by those who previously backed Zille.
Maimane has four years in active politics under his belt, and James six after a long academic career.