Zwakele Mncwango leader of the DA in KwaZulu-Natal with former leader Sizwe Mchunu.PICTURE BONGANI MBATHA
Durban - While all eyes are on the ANC succession race, the leadership contest in the DA before the party provincial congresses later this year is gaining momentum.

Zwakele Mncwango, who leads the DA in KwaZulu-Natal, told the Sunday Tribune that he was ready to lead for another term.

“Obviously, from my side, I’m still available to serve the party. But we are a political party and a democratic party and this does not mean that nobody must contest me. They are welcome to contest me,” he said.

The DA was set to elect new leadership in its provinces later this year with the national congress expected to take place early next year. No dates have been confirmed.

When Mncwango, who hails from Nongoma, northern KZN, dislodged Sizwe Mchunu in 2015, his priority was to increase DA support in KwaZulu-Natal.

His plan was to woo Indian voters and make inroads in rural areas, where the party had a weak presence.

Looking back, Mncwango said he was pleased with his achievement.

But there was another hurdle in his way, the ANC, which is strong in KZN, he said.

“I can’t put a high target and say DA will win 50 plus 1 votes. I have to be realistic.”

Mncwango said: “When I took over, there were districts which did not have a single DA councillor, such as uMkhanyakude. I made a commitment to take the DA out of urban areas. Now we have councillors in each and every municipality in uMkhanyakude,” he said.

He said the DA had increased support in all municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal in last year’s local government election. The number of councillors, Mncwango said, increased from 140 to 194 when he took over.

“We had three priorities - to retain our support, to take Indian support, and the third was to win rural support. And we did it.”

Mncwango said it all seemed impossible at the time with the existence of the ANC, IFP and Zanele KaMagwaza’s National Freedom Party.

“From nowhere, I can safely say that we now have a footprint across the province. Unlike before when our footprint was only in urban areas.

“Numbers don’t lie. Anyone who wants to question my contribution can’t argue with that.”

With Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s IFP regaining its lost supports after the breaking of the National Freedom Party in 2011, Mncwango conceded that it was going to be a challenge for him to “steal” more rural votes.

But he was confident the DA would continue charming more rural voters.

Mncwango believed, like President Jacob Zuma, that while the country had political freedom, it was still struggling to attain economic freedom which he said was still skewed in favour of a few.

“Many South Africans are still outside the mainstream economy. We need to start talking about those things.

“And I don’t think that one person can address these things but rather the entire country.”

On racism which his party had been grappling with, Mncwango said, “The country keeps being divided along racial lines. I think it’s up to us as the country to be bold on these issues.”

Mncwango, who is armed with a string of academic qualifications including an MBA, is the nephew of the IFP’s national organiser Albert Mncwango.

Mncwango said the thorny issue of land must be dealt with but warned that it must not be racial.

“Land can’t be an issue of race but land must be an issue of justice.”

The downside of leading the DA in KZN was that the president was from the same province, which made the ANC even stronger in the region, he said.

Presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is also from KZN.

“The challenge is that if Dlamini Zuma wins in December, it will have an impact on our national target. KZN becomes a big player when it comes to national politics. This means that if the DA in KZN doesn’t do well, it will affect us nationally.”

He conceded that “there will be too much on my shoulders ahead of 2019”.