Solly Msimanga to challenge Athol Trollip for DA federal chairperson position

Nominations for leadership positions in party will officially open on Monday

DA leadership under scrutiny as the party prepares to open nomintions for federal congress

Johannesburg – Nominations for leadership in the Democratic Alliance will officially open on Monday, with the biggest battle expected to be between Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga and Nelson Mandela Bay’s Athol Trolllip for the position of federal chairperson.

Trollip who is currently occupying that seat has recently come under fire with the EFF, which helped to get him into office signalling that it would “punish the DA” by helping the ANC remove him.

This is after the main opposition voted against an EFF motion, which was supported by the governing party to expropriate land without compensation.

The Nelson Mandela Bay mayor who ran for the leadership post alongside now DA leader Mmusi Maimane beat Makashule Gana for the position of federal chair in 2015.

Msimanga confirmed to News24 he would be running, but refused to share his thoughts on his campaign and reasons why he decided to run for the position.

A source close to the Tshwane mayor said enough lobbying had been done and that Msimanga would be nominated once the process was opened on Monday.

The DA member said Msimanga needed to contest because he was the “total embodiment of the party’s values and principles”.

“Having been regional chair in Tshwane and a Gauteng provincial chair he has the necessary experience and skills to become our federal chairperson,” she said.

She added that in terms of natural progression it was only fitting for Msimanga to be elevated to a national level.

Looking beyond leadership

In terms of top party leadership, a DA councillor in Cape Town said no one should contest Maimane.

“It’s too close to an election year for the leadership of the party to be challenged,” he said.

Meanwhile, John Steenhuisen has continued to refute claims that he would challenge James Selfe, the long-serving federal council chair, for his position.

Selfe had indicated to News24 that he would continue in that post and that he was not worried about anyone seeking to unseat him.

“A great deal of planning has been done ahead of the 2019 elections and I have been at the helm of that. I want to see that through,” said Selfe.

He said he also had the institutional memory to assist the party as it looked towards what’s expected to be fiercely contested general elections in 2019.

Another DA insider said it was time to look beyond the leadership issues but to reposition the party ahead of the critical polls.

“We need to be able to compete - I know some will be scared or even reluctant but there’s a feeling that the DA needs to move towards the left, [or] at least the centre,” said the insider.

'No real response on land'

She claimed that there was pressure from within the party for it to diversify both its caucus and leadership.

“The language has to change, I think this will become clear after our April conference,” she said.

The beleaguered party has also been rocked by scandals and is currently in a battle with one of its well-known leaders Patricia De Lille, who is also the mayor of Cape Town. The DA has levelled several allegations relating to corruption against her, while she in turn has accused the party of being hypocritical and racist.

The DA recently appointed Gwen Ngwenya as one of its members of Parliament and is expected to raise her profile and to use her as the replacement of one of its spokespeople Phumzile van Damme, who resigned from the post last month.

The insider said this is because some want to position Ngwenya as the party’s Gauteng premier candidate for 2019.

“But elevating people like Gwen, who’s as right as can be, is a reflection of a party not willing to change how it sees or does things,” said one DA MP.

The DA’s federal congress, which takes place in April, will elect a leader, a federal chairperson and three deputies. Maimane is expected to retain his position as leader. However, News24's resident analyst Ralph Mathekga said it was a bad idea for the party not to challenge Maimane.

“They have got to re-think their current crop of leaders. Maimane was elected during a different political era in the country,” said Mathekga.

He added that he did not believe Maimane had what it took to challenge the ANC, which is currently engulfed in a euphoria of sorts since electing its Cyril Ramaphosa as president.

Mathekga also said it was important for the party to focus on its policies.

“They have no real response on land and... [they had a] major policy shift on the VAT issue,” said the political analyst.

He said the DA failed to explain why it had previously advocated for a cut in corporate tax but suddenly wants to fight a VAT increase.

“The party almost feels stranded in how it responds to the ANC and is just too inconsistent,” he said.

Going back to the issue of leadership, Mathekga said the party needed to re-assess whether all its leaders are well positioned, citing that it was not just about Maimane.

“Even their leaders in their metros and all the other regions, are those people well placed and able to take the lead and inspire a different way of thinking."

He said the DA could no longer rely on criticising former ANC and South African president Jacob Zuma and needed strong fresh ideas to appeal to the electorate.