The DA’s poor showing in this week’s by-elections has come as a blessing in disguise for senior black leaders in the party who are facing disciplinary hearings.
Having conceded through its newly elected party deputy federal chairperson, Refiloe Nt’sekhe, that its poor handling of “the debacle of Schweizer-Reneke continued to haunt the DA in North West”, and that “months of conflict between the DA and Patricia de Lille, which gave rise to the party known as Good”, had eaten into its support base in Western Cape wards, the party now intends to try to reach “quick and amicable resolutions” with various black leaders who face disciplinary action.
This comes after the run-up to the party’s elective congress, when senior black leaders alleged that DA disciplinary structures were being used to “target” those opposed to then interim leader, John Steenhuisen.
Among those hauled before the party’s Federal Legal Commission (FLC) were Gauteng member of the provincial legislature and former party youth leader Makashule Gana, feisty MP Phumzile van Damme and the party’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial leader, Zwakele Mncwango.
Van Damme, whose matter was referred to the party’s federal executive in September, appeared before the FLC last month and was charged with bringing the party into disrepute following an incident in which she allegedly punched a young man after suffering racial abuse from his family at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.
She was compelled to appear before the FLC despite the fact that the management of the V&A had since apologised to her.
Mncwango was said to have breached the party’s code of conduct by inviting former DA leader Mmusi Maimane – who resigned from the party last year – to a state of the province address in March.
Gana was charged with making statements on social media thought to be contrary to party positions.
Other outspoken black DA leaders who have been charged include the party’s Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga, Northern Cape leader Andrew Louw and Mpumalanga leader Jane Sithole.
While some feared that since the party appeared to be doing all in its power to win back its white constituency, numerous black leaders would be purged through disciplinary procedures, other insiders with intimate knowledge of the proceedings told City Press that “strong consideration” was being given to the way these matters were handled and “how they would portray the party”.
One leader said: “In all honesty, the party doesn’t need any bad publicity or poor handling of any matters leading up to the 2021 local government elections. For that reason, the most likely outcome of most of these frivolous charges would be either acquittals or light penalties, including docking portions of salaries.”
Nt’sekhe conceded that the DA had learnt many important lessons from its poor handling of earlier events and would in future err on the side of caution. It also realised that it would take time to regain the trust of voters.
“The DA has democratically mature voters who punish us when we’ve disappointed them through weak local councillors or perceived governance failures,” said Nt’sekhe.
She added that the party had taken stock of “the net loss of seven wards in the by-elections” and was analysing them carefully.
According to Nt’sekhe, South Africa still needed to build “a moderate, nonracial centre”, and this could only be facilitated by the DA.
However, two black DA leaders told City Press that for the party to regain any momentum in next year’s local government elections, “it needs to rethink its policies, particularly regarding nonracism, stop pandering to its white electorate and focus more on the country’s majority black populace.
“When [black voters] look at the DA’s newly elected leadership, who’re mainly white, they don’t think these leaders can relate to their needs. That’s why this [stance of denying racism] will never fly with the black constituency. [That constituency] actually led us to gain so much ground in 2016.”
The two leaders also said the recent by-election results had left the faction that was vying for Mbali Ntuli to be elected to lead the DA “elated”, as they saw it as vindication of their campaign that called for more inclusivity.
“There had been fears that the newly elected Steenhuisen leadership would try to force out Ntuli’s faction, but, as it stands, the party can’t afford more repercussions that would come from such careless actions,” they added.
In Wednesday’s by-elections, of the 45 wards in which the DA contested, it won only two new ones, retained 14 of the 25 it held and lost nine.