Challenge to DA old guard

Johannesburg - At 09:00 on Wednesday, a waiter balances a tray of beers at a restaurant in Gandhi Square in Johannesburg’s city centre.

“He banna, what time is it? That guy is drinking Castle at this time,” Makashule Gana observes.

“I used to do that at 05:00. Then I got into the habit of reading,” he says, flashing his trademark boyish grin.

He tells me he is currently reading Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff, a book about the 2004 US election.

The 34-year-old DA member of the provincial legislature and former MP has agreed to an early morning meeting. He looks tired, but quickly explains that he has just been to the gym.

“It is one way to clear the mind and prepare for the day ahead,” he says.

An outspoken and, arguably, radical young leader, Gana is often described as being misplaced in the DA.

On Twitter, where he is most active, he is often accused of being more of a “fighter” or “comrade”.

“I guess one of the things that we have to change is how people see a DA politician. Why do they assume that a DA politician must always be serious and aloof? When they are on Twitter they must be measured,” the avid tweeter says in response to this claim.

Mission achieved

We are meeting to discuss his game plan for 2019, given that the DA has made it clear that it is gunning for Gauteng province.

Last year, Gana ditched his position as an MP to return to the province he is passionate about. “Besides,” he says, “I enjoy a good challenge.”

Gana was the driving force behind the 2016 electoral campaign of Midvaal Mayor Bongani Baloyi – the only DA-run municipality in Gauteng pre-2016 local government elections – where he looked to ensure the municipality remained under DA rule.

That mission was achieved.

Rumour has it that he may start a different kind of campaign come 2019 – and that the Orlando Pirates fanatic has his sights set on becoming premier of the province should the DA snatch Gauteng from the governing party.

Gana has taken one sip of his tap water before I take the plunge, hoping that my shock question will be rewarded with honesty. “Is it true that you moved from Cape Town to Jozi to set yourself up for...”

He cuts me off mid-sentence with a slow grin that becomes a coy laugh, followed by: “No, I am not agreeing to that.”

Gana goes on to elaborate: “I have run many people’s campaigns, but have asked no one to run any campaign of mine. So, I speak for myself. I do not allow people to speak on my behalf.”

Female leaders

Does the husband and father of two want to be premier?

“It has not crossed my mind. Let me put it this way: This year is a critical one for the DA. The 2019 election will be won or lost on our strength this year. It is about putting structures in place.

“If we do not get things right in 2017, it will be difficult for us to come back. We need to get more people talking about the DA and talking about the DA winning. We need to get more leaders into the DA – that is key.”

At the 2016 August polls, the DA grew its share in Gauteng by almost 4%, bringing its overall share of the vote to 37%.

While many DA leaders tiptoe around the issue of race, Gana does not hold back on the subject and the role it will play in determining his party’s success or failure.

“The DA needs more female leaders and more black leaders. The public say one cannot talk about people in race terms. I tell them I want people who look like me [in the party]. Maybe my answer will be acceptable on those terms.”

Who are the people upset by race terms?

“I will not answer that. The point is, if we as DA members really want to grow our numbers and win at the polls, we must win significantly. We must more than double our votes in Gauteng townships such as Mamelodi, Soweto, Atteridgeville, Kagiso and others.

“We need leaders in those communities. For example, for us to win Soweto, we need leaders in Soweto. It is as simple as that.”

Administrative processes

The recipe for success in 2019 is simple, according to Gana. The DA needs to change how it connects and interacts with communities. Parachuting into places in search of votes and then leaving again simply will not do.

“We need to be with the people. We need to be there when they are rejoicing and in times of sorrow. To win, the DA needs to be rooted in communities.”

Gana is not afraid to acknowledge the perceptions of racism in the DA, adding that the party must work harder to combat this.

On whether the DA’s leadership may be a barrier to connecting with voters, Gana reiterates the need for new leaders to be brought into the fold. “There are great leaders in the DA, but not enough of them. To govern this country we need more leaders.”

In last year’s polls, the City of Cape Town was paraded as the DA’s model for success. But with three new metros added to the party’s bounty – two in Gauteng – that model no longer applies, says Gana.

The party must deliver in Midvaal, Tshwane and Johannesburg if it is to unseat the ANC.

It is only a few months since Gana has returned to Johannesburg. He admits that, so far, the term has been marked by administrative processes – “but now we need to accelerate our campaign; we cannot clean up forever”.

In 2014, the DA scored about 31% of votes in Gauteng, compared with the ANC’s approximately 54%. While the opposition party will push for a majority win, a victory without help in the form of a coalition is unlikely. The Red Berets came in at 10% in Gauteng in 2014. Should the two opposition parties improve on these numbers, they could join forces to clinch a decisive victory in Gauteng over the ANC.

Is the DA’s leadership a barrier to connecting with voters? Does the party need more female and black leaders?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword GANA and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

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