Gloves are off as the DA’s Mvenya and Bhanga battle to lead Eastern Cape

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Veliswa Mvenya. Picture: Faisal Martin
Veliswa Mvenya. Picture: Faisal Martin

The decision by Athol Trollip to relinquish his position as Democratic Alliance leader in the Eastern Cape has set off an intensive battle between a candidate seen as his proxy and the current provincial chairperson.

The DA provincial leadership title at the congress sitting from Friday in Nelson Mandela Bay, is set to be determined based on who best can rattle the ANC’s cage in its rural strongholds ahead of the party’s planned complete take over in 2019.

Veliswa Mvenya, the current chairperson in the province, will face off against Nqaba Bhanga at a much anticipated provincial conference next week.

Both contenders believe that they are most suited to carry the task in winning the black vote in rural areas as the DA has hit the ceiling in urban areas.

Bhanga, who is believed to be Trollip’s chosen one, has had to fight off claims that he was merely a proxy to the DA’s federal chairperson.

Bhanga told City Press this week that he played a key role in winning the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality for the party at last year’s local government elections and this qualified him to be the right man for the job.

In responding to a question on his close ties with the outgoing leader, Bhanga took a seemingly frustrated pause before saying: “The person who recruited me into the DA is Athol Trollip.”

“He is like a mentor to me. I am not ashamed of the fact that I am close to Athol Trollip, I am not ashamed of the fact that he has led this province for the past 20 years in politics.

"He has grown the numbers of this party until it governed Nelson Mandela. I celebrate that success. I identify myself with that success.

"Any person who says that I must be ashamed of that legacy is wrong,” said Bhanga.

“I am happy that people are saying I am close to Athol Trollip and even when I take over leadership, I am going to listen to Athol Trollip, I am going to take his council, I am going to take his advice,” said the Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral committee member.

Bhanga joined the party from the Congress of the People in 2014 and his detractors lament that he is still, “young in the structures”.

But he dismissed this, saying that his time in the party was not as important as what he could offer and that he has proved in his short time there that he is more than capable.

A leader in the province told City Press that Trollip’s survival in the party at a national level depended on Bhanga’s win next week.

“The danger that Trollip is in, is that if Mvenya wins he is finished at the next conference. He will be significantly weaker going into next year’s federal congress, which will be hotly contested as well,” the leader said.

Meanwhile, Mvenya’s bid to get the top job is a personal one. Last year she unceremoniously resigned from the party, but was later convinced to reconsider.

Insiders say that tensions between herself and Trollip had come to a head, resulting in her decision to walk away from the party.

Her decision at the time caused a panic in the party because much of the party’s growth in rural areas has been attributed to her.

When asked about her resignation this week, Mvenya said that she did not want to get into the details but believed that she had emerged from “internal challenges” stronger.

“In order to win in 2019, we have to work the rural areas. I am there. I have shown that I can work in the rural areas and there is no one else that can match me in that regard.

“Rural people trust me because I cut my teeth there. They trust me. I am not just a black person, I am their black person,” she said.

It is understood that on Bhanga’s slate is fellow mayoral committee member – another close ally of Trollip – Andrew Whitfield who will stand for chairperson.

Mvenya’s lobbyists are hoping that the position will go to Gustav Rautenbach.

Bhanga said that at the end of congress the DA must remain intact and that he would be willing to serve under Mvenya if that was the decision of delegates.

Mvenya agreed on the need for unity, saying that after congress “the DA must prevail” and the work to secure the province in 2019 must continue.

She would not answer a question on where she would stand in case of a loss, saying that she would not entertain any doubts about her chances.

The congress was initially scheduled for February this year but was postponed because the party did not have enough branches in good standing to make up the conference.

It is understood that a number of meetings involving lobbyists and contenders have been held in order to reach consensus ahead of the conference.

Bhanga denied being a part of any such gathering saying that he has only called for a meeting to stress that the party must come first and not, “egos”.

“Positions are elected in conference, there can’t be an offer without a conference. There were discussions about bringing everybody’s mind together to understand the party is more important than our personal interests,” he said.

One of Mvenya’s lobbyists confirmed that such conversations had taken place but that Mvenya was not interested, opting rather to let delegates decide for themselves who they want to lead.

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