DA needs a mature leader: Leon, Douglas weigh in ahead of elective conference

Former leader Tony Leon and parliamentary chief whip Douglas Gibson have both expressed excitement over the DA’s decision to pull off an elective conference via digital platforms.

Former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - A mature leader, a compelling offer to voters and concerns over a false unity - these are some of the issues raised by two former leaders of the Democratic Alliance (DA) as they mull over the party’s upcoming virtual elective conference.

Former leader Tony Leon and parliamentary chief whip Douglas Gibson both expressed excitement over the DA’s decision to pull off an elective conference via digital platforms.

The DA pushed ahead with its federal congress after it was postponed earlier in the year due to a COVID-19 outbreak hitting South Africa’s shores.

Interim leader John Steenhuisen and former youth and now member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature Mbali Ntuli are the candidates for the leadership position.

While both leaders agree the party has good opponents vying for the position of federal leader, Gibson tipped the odds in Steenhuisen’s favour arguing that the DA needed a “mature” and “experienced” leader to take it forward.

“I think you don’t send in your third team to go into a rugby test, you put your first team in. I think Mbali, nice as she is, clever as she is, good as she is, I think she is a little early. The DA has tried this on two occasions and has flopped,” said Gibson

He said it was time for the party to elect a leader who was mature, knew what they were doing and who had served in Parliament; he further questioned how someone who has never experienced the National Assembly would be able to handle the party’s caucus, its supporters and go "toe-to-toe with the president and Cabinet in Parliament."

Gibson, referring to former leader Mmusi Maimane and former parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who have both quit the party, said it just didn’t work giving junior politicians such great responsibility.

“We’ve had people who were rather inexperienced, we had Lindiwe Mazibuko - very nice, I supported her, nice personality, charming - but she couldn’t cut the mustard, couldn’t run a caucus with a 100 people she was a flop."

He shared similar views about Maimane, who the party will finally replace at the weekend, saying he was charismatic, clever and well educated with a lot to offer but had not been in politics long enough to have the gravitas needed to lead a major political party.

Running through Steenhuisen’s years in politics including serving at a local, provincial and now national level, Gibson said this is what the DA needed.

“It’s time to have somebody grown-up leading the party.”

Meanwhile, former leader Tony Leon has cautioned against the party going above and beyond in a bid to build a united front.

He told Eyewitness News, while the conference mattered, it was crucial for the DA to plan a way forward, with the upcoming 2021 local government elections in mind.

Leon said whoever was chosen to take the party forward, they had to get a clear mandate and the loser must accept the outcomes.

While he said it was important for the new leader to unify the party, it was not the only thing that mattered.

“We have seen with our own eyes and we have listened with our own ears how paralyzing the false unity of the ANC has been and that’s why (Cyril) Ramaphosa can’t move forward, he is being hindered by the 49% who supported his opponent in the last election,” said Leon.

He said a clear majority for the winner would also make it easier to build unity, provided that whoever was elected did not drive the loser and their supporters out of the party.

Leon said while it was a difficult balancing act, the responsibility of leaders was to lead.

Both leaders dismissed claims that the DA was moving from its long-held centre position and towards a more right-wing political outlook, with Leon saying it didn't really matter what commentators brand parties but instead whether the organisations made a difference in the lives of ordinary voters.

He admitted some of the DA's track record in municipalities have been "less than impressive," saying the party needed to make a compelling case to voters in order to gain their support at the upcoming local polls.

"It's absolute nonsense about this rightward movement... that is the sort of thing said by the enemies of the party," said Gibson, arguing that this never been the case in the DA's language or posture in parliament, provincial legislatures or councils.

John Steenhuisen: Would you vote for him?

(Edited by Mihlali Ntsabo)

Download the EWN app to your iOS or Android device.