Johannesburg - DA leader Mmusi Maimane has strengthened his hand on power after he and his supporters won the debate over diversity in the leadership ranks of the organisation.
On Sunday, Maimane - who was elected unopposed for another term - described the adoption of the diversity clause into the party’s constitution as a great stride that will make the official opposition more representative and welcoming to its members and supporters.
The official opposition concluded its two-day federal congress in Pretoria which also saw Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip win a hotly contested race against Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga for the position of DA federal chairperson.
The conference, which was the biggest in the party’s history, also saw the adoption of a recall clause, paving the way for the expulsion of Patricia De Lille as the Cape Town mayor.
In the lead-up to the federal congress, the debate around the diversity clause and proposed amendments divided the party, with the so-called black caucus saying the party’s composition of public representatives and staff complement did not reflect the country’s demographics in terms of race and gender.
Those critical of the contents of the diversity clause accused the black caucus of “racial solidarity”, pointing out that sections of the amendments were bordering on introducing quotas.
Maimane has repeatedly reiterated his opposition to quotas, stressing that he had a responsibility to ensure diversity within the party. The amendments made by delegates to the clause have helped strengthen it, Maimane said.
The new diversity clause said South Africa was a richly diverse society and that its people came from different origins, worship in different ways and have different cultures and customs and that they were all unique individuals.
It also reads: “Diversity is one of South Africa’s greatest assets. The party celebrates diversity, and recognises the right of each individual to be who they want to be, from domination by others.
“The party solemnly subscribes to the preamble to the Constitution of South Africa which recognises the injustices of the past, and affirms that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. The party will continue to take active steps to promote and advance diversity in its own ranks.”
Maimane said he supported the decision to reject rigid quotas, adding that it was not what he and those backing the diversity clause were calling for as a solution to the diversity issue.
But the party suffered a setback on the gender question - only one woman voted into its top leadership structure.
“Of the six positions voted for at the DA federal congress, national spokesperson Refiloe Ntsekhe was last of the three federal deputy chairpersons.
Maimane admitted women were left out the most in leadership roles.
“Make no mistake, I have a genuine interest in making sure that there are women in our structures and in all leadership places,” he said.
He said he could not set a threshold for women representation in the party even as he wanted more of them to lead.
“I can’t because I don’t believe in quotas. We fix it by going out and attracting more females to get into politics.
“I really believe that on this particular issue, more can be done and I urge all of us to continue to do that, but the democratic process - which I uphold - has delivered this particular outcome.”
Ntsekhe said she was not disappointed that she was the only woman voted into the DA’s national leadership.
“I don’t necessarily think we must now practice quotas and say people must vote on particular gender issues or select other black people. I think people must say these are the leaders we want to elect. It doesn’t bother me that I am the only female on the leadership panel.
“I think when you look at the diversity in the room and the people who actually elect, I am very comfortable that I am chosen by blacks, whites and Indians to serve as one of the leaders of the organisation,” Ntsekhe said.
The congress also rejected the proposal to extend Maimane’s term of office from three to five years.