DA interim leader John Steenhuisen has dismissed the idea of a debate with leadership contestant Mbali Ntuli, saying she cannot determine party processes ahead of their conference.
However, Steenhuisen supporters have told City Press that a debate would be a trap for the interim leader, as he could be dragged into an ugly dispute about race.
KwaZulu-Natal MPL Ntuli, who is vying to become the leader of the DA, is moving full steam ahead with her campaign and challenged Steenhuisen to participate in four televised debates, which she said would enable citizens to hear for themselves the difference in viewpoints between the pair.
Gauteng leader John Moodey is also challenging Steenhuisen for the position of DA leader.
Responding to Ntuli’s challenge, Steenhuisen said it was not up to individuals to determine how they should campaign ahead of the party’s national congress, which is scheduled to take place at the end of October.
“I respect the decisions of the party and the presiding officers in determining when, and on what platform, any internal debates take place. I’ll submit myself to whatever processes the party decides. That’s how the DA functions and I have no doubt that’s how it will continue to function,” he said.
However, sources close to Steenhuisen said he wished to avoid the debate because he saw it as a potential ambush.
“We’re focusing on getting the delegates ready and the debate will just derail the process. We see this as a way to trap Steenhuisen because the competition will make it about race. No matter how sincere we are about fixing the inequalities in the party, we’ll always be on the losing side,” the source said.
Steenhuisen has until Monday to respond to the challenge, but, as of Friday, he had not yet done so.
Ntuli told City Press that every topic was on the table and would be discussed extensively, including the inequalities in the party.
“No subject will be off limits. Everything we feel needs to be debated will be debated. The DA will know who the better leader would be before they eventually vote,” she said.
The election of new party leaders is necessary after former leader Mmusi Maimane resigned after the election of Helen Zille as the party’s federal chairperson – a situation he said he could not countenance.