Wilmot James and Mmusi Maimane will face off at the DA's federal congress this weekend. Photos: Greg Maxwell and David Ritchie

Cape Town - After academic-turned-politician Wilmot James announced that he would run for the leadership of the Democratic Alliance (DA) against firm favourite Mmusi Maimane, two little-known party members also joined the race on Friday.

Adrian Naidoo, an ordinary party member from Gauteng, and Morgan Oliphant’s names appeared on the final list of candidates, which also includes those of candidates for the top positions on the party’s executive.

The candidates for federal chairman are Eastern Cape DA leader Athol Trollip, MP Makashule Gana and Western Cape legislature member Masizole Mnqasela.

James Selfe will stay on as chairman of the federal executive council as he is standing unopposed.

Wheareas parliamentary leader Maimane announced his candidacy last Saturday, saying he is “in it to win it,” his main opponent deliberated for nearly two weeks before entering what many predict will become a fractious two-way leadership battle.

The other two candidates are not expected to splinter the vote.

“They are not going to get any votes,” a high-placed party source said.

In a brief statement issued at noon, James 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 DA’s Federal Congress in Nelson Mandela Bay on May 09/10, 2015.”

Prominent DA MP David Maynier - who remains close to former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko — said he would be steering James’s campaign. Mazibuko, who is studying at Harvard, confirmed last week that she was out of the running to succeed Zille.

“I believe Wilmot James is ready to lead and that he is the best candidate to take the party forward. He has my full support and I will be running his campaign,” Maynier said.

Maimane’s campaign is driven by MP Gavin Davis, a trusted Zille advisor, along with Geordin 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 Mazibuko’s tenure, risks again being deeply divided by a leadership battle after a year in which Maimane has sought to heal rifts.

“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.

The other side echoed the same sentiment.

Maimane is believed to have the support of six DA provincial leaders.

Gauteng leader John Moody considered running but confirmed this week that he would not and is expected to back Maimane, whose campaign will portray him as “the only candidate that can reach the millions of South Africans who agree with our values, but don’t yet vote for us”.

He also has the public backing of Athol Trollip.

Sources have confirmed that Zille’s decision about her future was clinched by Trollip’s ambitions because she could neither prevail upon him to step back, nor could she countenance the idea of an all-white line-up in the 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 actively involved in the parliamentary leader’s bid for the party reins. In this regard, James’s decision is seen as a boon by Maimane’s supporters.

Having to slug it out with James weakens a perception that he was simply imposed by those who previously backed Zille.

Maimane is expected to run a relentlessly positive campaign, pitching a vision of the DA as representing hope for a more egalitarian future.

“Mmusi’s vision for South Africa is a place where every individual has the freedom to make their own choices about the way they want 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 has four years in active politics under his belt, and James six after a long academic career.