After a bruising 2020 for DA, Steenhuisen faced with a mammoth task

John Steenhuisen received the mandate to lead the Democratic Alliance (DA) but there are persistent questions about the direction of the party and its future.

DA leader John Steenhuisen. Picture: @Our_DA/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - It’s set to be an interesting and potentially trying year for the nation’s official opposition with local government elections looming and a new leader at the helm.

John Steenhuisen received the mandate to lead the Democratic Alliance (DA) but there are persistent questions about the direction of the party and its future.

Steenhuisen is faced with a tricky balancing act – leading the party to elections later this year and trying to rebuild a party and convince South Africans that the DA remains a viable home and alternative to the ANC.

Steenhuisen beat out former DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli, receiving a whopping 80% of the votes in the DA’s virtual elective conference in October - a first in the country. This after initial plans to have the leadership contest play out in April was delayed by the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.

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The party tried to rebuild following the departure of various high-profile figures in 2019, including former leader Mmusi Maimane, former CEO Paul Boughey and former Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba – but 2020 had more of the same in store.

Several regional leaders as well as long-time Gauteng leader John Moodey exited, with Moodey making serious allegations about the treatment of black leaders in the party.

“But it comes to a point where you know that those who have captured the party are in charge. In fact, if you just look at it, over the past few months in the Western Cape, no less than five black mayors have been replaced by white DA mayors to govern. And there’s other people who’ve left the party on those principles too.”

The DA has refuted his claims, accusing him of jumping ship before being found guilty of a serious offence.

All the while internal battles continued to make their way onto social media platforms, including revelations that Steenhuisen forced MP Phumzile van Damme to go on a sabbatical.

There was little by way of good news at the polls either, with the DA retaining and winning fewer seats in by-elections.

WATCH: Steenhuisen: I've never shut down dissenting voices in the DA

All the while race remained a thorny issue in spite of a policy conference that attempted to clarify the DA’s position on the matter.

The party came in for criticism that its newfound voice when it came to farm murders and the Brackenfell High School racism saga was nothing more than an attempt to emulate the right-leaning Freedom Front Plus - claims which former leader and now federal council chairperson Helen Zille has rubbished.

“They are being killed at a rate quite above their numbers in terms of the broader population and it is an outrage that we want to raise internationally. Without food, this country will perish and without farmers, there will be no food.”

Zille herself remains a lightning rod figure - often described as divisive. Managing that perception along with the DA’s approach to race and healing past rifts are just some of the major tasks Steenhuisen has to resolve.

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