5 people who could lead the DA – and 2 who can’t

By admin
13 April 2015

With DA leader Helen Zille announcing she would not be standing for re-election, Carien du Plessis of City Press looks at possible candidates to take charge of the party:

Mmusi Maimane

The DA’s parliamentary leader tops the list of people who might run as leader at the DA’s May conference.

By virtue of his position, Maimane is one of the most senior leaders in the party, even though he’s only 34, and he is known to be ambitious.

Maimane was head-hunted by the DA ahead of the 2012 elections, when he ran as the party’s candidate for DA mayor, but he rose spectacularly since then.

He stood as the party’s Gauteng premier candidate last year but went to Parliament after the DA failed to get into power in the province.

Maimane, whose style of public speaking emulates United States President Barack Obama’s, is popular within the party and was elected one of the federal chairs out of nine candidates at its last congress with the most votes by far.

Maimane tweeted shortly before the DA’s emergency press conference today that Helen Zille is his hero.

John Steenhuisen

The DA’s chief whip is another ambitious person and known to be one of the power brokers in the party. At 39 he is still relatively young and has shown strong leadership on parliamentary issues in the past.

He has an easy-going manner and is popular within the DA’s caucus. Steenhuisen was leader of the opposition in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature before moving to Parliament and was elected the party’s chief whip with very little parliamentary experience.

An affair with a fellow DA staffer, now his wife, rocked the party in 2010, and although it was a drawback, this doesn’t seem to have harmed his career in the long term.

He might not make it though because the DA has been looking for a leader who can appeal to non-traditional voters, and being white and male doesn’t fit this bill.

*UPDATE: Steenhuisen will not stand for the position of party leader, he said on Sunday. When asked if he would be throwing his hat into the ring, Steenhuisen said: "Absolutely not. But if Mmusi Maimane stands I will support him 100%."

Lindiwe Mazibuko

The DA’s former parliamentary leader is currently studying at Harvard after she decided last year to take time out from politics, following an increasingly strained relationship with Zille.

Mazibuko, who celebrated her 35th birthday on Thursday, was always considered to have been mentored and pushed by Zille to be her possible successor.

Like Maimane in 2014, Mazibuko’s face was prominently used in the party’s 2011 election campaign. Mazibuko has in the past said her resignation from politics was temporary, and it is known that some of her friends in the DA have been trying to persuade her to come back.

Zille’s announcement would leave Mazibuko with very little time to return to South Africa and campaign – if in fact she had finished her studies by then.

Athol Trollip

Currently the DA leader in the Eastern Cape, mayoral candidate for Nelson Mandela Bay in 2016, and candidate for the party’s federal chair position next month, Trollip is described by supporters as ambitious and by detractors as greedy.

He was defeated as parliamentary leader halfway through his term - by Mazibuko - partly because his leadership style became unpopular, and partly because DA MPs said they felt the party needed someone more like Mazibuko - young, black, bright and female.

Trollip has a long history in the party, can speak Xhosa, like Zille, and is supported by many in the party who felt wounded by Zille’s leadership.

Patricia de Lille

Cape Town’s mayor is a well-known political firebrand with strong struggle credentials.

She has made a political journey via the Pan Africanist Congress, through to founding the Independent Democrats, to eventually starting a merger with the DA in 2010.

She is currently running for DA Western Cape leader - the elective congress is set to take place on Saturday - and this could mean that she would not make a run for the party’s national leadership next month.

The question is also whether the 64-year-old would regard herself as having the energy to take on a new challenge now.

Neil Els and Jack Swart

These are two candidates who have put their hats into the ring to stand as DA leader next month. Zille said she hadn’t even heard of them, which means they might not stand that big a chance of even being noticed.

Carien du Plessis, City Press

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