Steenhuisen ‘confident he will emerge victorious’ in DA leadership race

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Steenhuisen admitted that politics were in its nature unpredictable, but despite this, he was certain he has ticked all the boxes to garner favour from the majority of the voting delegates.

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen at Parliament for the State of the Nation Address on 13 February 2020. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - As this Democratic Alliance (DA) conference delegates prepare for a weekend of elections and policy discussions, a contender for the party’s federal leader, John Steenhuisen, this week said he was confident he would emerge victoriously.

The virtual conference, which will be necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, will see a number of leaders contesting for positions – including Steenhuisen, who is up against Kwa-Zulu Natal legislature member Mbali Ntuli.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Steenhuisen admitted that politics were in its nature unpredictable, but despite this, he was certain he has ticked all the boxes to garner favour from the majority of the voting delegates.

“I think I’ve got a good chance. I have done the work. I had 35 in-person and virtual meetings around the country. I have set out my vision. I have been careful not to go on the attack against my colleague in the race and I have set out a clear and compelling vision for the party going forward and I think it’s going to resonate with the delegates around the country.”

Steenhuisen joined politics in his twenties and was the youngest member of the Durban City Council when he was only 22 years' old.

However, should he not achieve this, he says the next party leader has a cheerleader in him because the cause is bigger than a single individual.

“So here is the thing – no matter what happens this weekend, on 3 November, I am going to get out of bed and my feet are going to hit the floor and I am going to do what I have done for the last 20-odd years to make my party better and to try and build a better, more inclusive South Africa”.

Steenhuisen was appointed interim leader of the party last year after Mmusi Maimane’s resignation from the party after the DA suffered major losses during the national elections.

Having served under different leaders, including the founding federal leader of the organisation Tony Leon, he told Eyewitness News that he has learnt a lot about the party’s weaknesses and strengths.

Speaking about the weaknesses in the party, he flagged what he described as internal and external influences.
At the top of this list, is what he explained has been the DA’s preoccupation with criticising the African National Congress (ANC) without providing any workable alternatives.

Referring to some of the proposals and plans announced by the party amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said this was the way to go, instead of pointing at how deep the holes are.

“The DA has been far too focused on critiquing the ANC. Of course, you have a job to hold the ANC to account, but I think what we have done in the past is we have been good at criticising without putting on the table workable alternatives and I think that is what the coronavirus pandemic has given us an opportunity to do. That we are capable of coming up with our own plans, our own policies, our own alternatives”.


However, this is not the only issue that stalks the party, as Steenhuisen went into other weaknesses which he has identified in his 22 years in the DA leadership.

Policy incoherence that usually spills over into the public discourse, with different leaders attacking one another over varying views was also at the top of his mind.

“When people look at the party that is fighting itself and fighting each other, I think they say these people are so busy fighting each other, when are they going to have time to fight for me?”

The issue Steenhuisen points to was behind the resignations of former Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba last year, who complained that the party was not putting the poorest residents of the city first and that his own colleagues in the council were working against him.

Maimane also raised similar issues, pointing to a disjuncture between the organisation he joined and what he said was a new DA, with a different set of values.

“When we start talking to ourselves and not talking to voters, they find other people to talk to and I think that is married with ideological incoherence and the fact that we have not been as solution-oriented as we should have been.”

He added that the party had made an error in trying to be everything to everyone, and ultimately ended up not being anything to a single person in the country.

The DA’s support base declined from 22.2% to 20.7% during last year’s national elections.

These realities, however, appear to have fired Steenhuisen up even more, to rise to the occasion of standing in contestation for the party’s leadership.

When detailing his vision for the party to Eyewitness News, he said he saw himself as the “core” of the country’s majority by 2024 when South Africans would be heading to the polls to appoint the seventh administration.
Pressure is mounting for the party to close ranks and rejuvenate its public image following the fallouts witnessed in past months, and Steenhuisen’s forward-looking approach could be credited to this.

He said he viewed the ANC’s continued decline at the polls as an opportunity for the DA to take up space where the governing party fails to do so.

“I think you do that by decisive leadership - leadership that brings all the talents in the party together towards achieving a common objective. And then able to articulate a vision that is coherent and which has resonance with the people across the country and make sure we have an offering that speaks to every South African – not the offering that tries to be everything to everybody”.

The DA elective conference will take place from Saturday to Sunday.

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