New team has to lead party to provincial dominance, write Rochelle de Kock and Johnnie Isaac
A new leadership of the DA in the Eastern Cape will take the reins from today – a team that will lead the party towards its goal of governing the province in 2019.
Months of vigorous campaigning came to a head yesterday when about 450 delegates voted in East London for their preferred bidders to succeed the former provincial executive.
Voting closed at about 5.30pm yesterday and the results will be announced today at the provincial congress being held at the East London International Convention Centre.
Those who were in the running for the top position of provincial leader are MPL Veliswa Mvenya and Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral committee member Nqaba Bhanga.
The chairperson post – regarded as the second-most sought after job – was being contested by two Bay councillors, Andrew Whitfield and Gustav Rautenbach.
While some senior members of the DA labelled the contest between the two groupings as a tussle between the liberals and the conservatives, others said the slate that emerged victorious would have a significant bearing on the party’s national congress next year.
Should Bhanga win – a staunch Athol Trollip ally – Trollip would have the support of his home base in the Eastern Cape to bolster any ambitions he may have of running for a second term as national federal chairman.
However, should Mvenya win, some say support for Trollip is not guaranteed as the two, who for years had a close relationship, butted heads last year and have since had a strained relationship. Speaking on the sidelines of the congress, where tensions between the opposing groups that support Mvenya and Bhanga were apparent – Mvenya said there were attempts by some to thwart her campaign with “flimsy charges”.
She was reported to the national bosses for using a DA logo in her campaign material – among other things – but no formal charges were ever brought against her.
Asked about clear divisions within the party – as those supporting the Bhanga slate sang divisive songs with the words loosely translated, “Mvenya, don’t mess with us”, she said she would not stoop to that level.
“It’s up to an individual to behave the way they have behaved. I’m not going to do that; I’m not going to stoop that low.
“I’ve heard their songs, but I’ve ignored everything.
“All I know, the reason why there’s this mudslinging is because there is someone who does not want to lose power.
“I did not know it was so difficult and so hurtful to lose power,” she said.
Asked if she would be willing to put a name to the person she was referring to, she initially declined but then said: “Obviously everybody knows who is behind Nqaba Bhanga and Nqaba declared that Trollip is behind him.
“So, obviously he’s got interests and we all know as politicians what those interests are.”
When paying tribute to Trollip – whose 15-year stint as provincial leader comes to an end today – Mvenya sang a different tune, referring to Trollip as a “brother” who was largely responsible for her rise within the party.
She sang his praises for building the DA within the province, saying she is who she is today because of him.
Asked for comment last night, Trollip said he was getting weary of being blamed for being partisan and the allegations were far-fetched.
“If you listened to the tributes today, you would’ve heard who I am and about my track record of being principled.
“Why did she say what she said about me in public if she says these things to you? I can’t answer that. Maybe you should ask her that,” Trollip said.
Meanwhile, Mvenya’s opponent, Bhanga, said he too felt confident that he would lead the party from today.
He fobbed off the tensions as “democracy at play” and insisted that “nobody is fighting with anybody”.
Bhanga said the DA would emerge stronger from the congress as its constitutional establishment was strong.
“Whoever wins at this conference, the DA wins.
“If I’m elected the leader, I will have to lead everybody, not only those who elected me, but everybody who participated.”
Mvenya said if she were to be announced leader today, every member of the party would be forced to toe the line.
“Everybody has to understand that the congress is gone and we have to build the DA. So, everybody will have to toe the line and I will have to be firm about that.
“Everybody will have to know that I am in charge. And when I am in charge, I am in charge of the DA. So, individuals will have to put their egos aside,” Mvenya said.
Before the official programme of the congress got under way yesterday, party members sang songs outside the ICC and donned T-shirts printed with the names of their preferred candidates.
Most of the afternoon was spent with a dedication and tribute to Trollip.
Those who spoke fondly of Trollip included national party leader Mmusi Maimane, chairman of the federal council James Selfe as well as provincial deputy chairman Bobby Stevenson.
Maimane hailed Trollip as an exemplary leader who had never bad-mouthed the party after losing out on the parliamentary leader position to Lindiwe Mazibuko.
“He never tore the apart,” Maimane said.
Maimane urged members to desist from dividing the party after losing out in internal elections.
Maimane said: “After this congress it must be known that the DA is bigger than all of us.”
Stevenson said Trollip always party led from the front. “He has the strongest personality that does not tolerate mediocrity. He is a principled leader.
“Trollip has never been a populist,” Stevenson said.
Selfe praised Trollip for his ability to work with people from different parties.
“Trollip understands the cause the DA stands for. He has managed to run the very difficult coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay.”
Trollip spoke at length about his earlier days in the DA, as well as some of the difficulties they had endured as members of the party. He, too, urged delegates to be united regardless of the congress outcome.
He cautioned against the “creeping ANC culture within the DA”.
“The ANC’s biggest weakness was accepting everybody into their party. Let’s not allow the enemy into our party,” he said.