Race to replace Maimane: These leaders will fight for top DA job

John Steenhuisen. Foto: Melinda Stuurman
John Steenhuisen. Foto: Melinda Stuurman
Foto: Melinda Stuurman

With several positions now vacant and voting for the interim head taking place in a few weeks, various familiar names are up for contestation

Intense behind-the-scenes lobbying has begun for the top leadership positions in the division-wracked DA, with at least four leaders being pushed to take over from Mmusi Maimane.

City Press has learnt that while the departures of Maimane and federal chair Athol Trollip are unlikely to result in a mass exit, the race to succeed them is set to be a heated and divisive one.

The resignation of the two, plus that of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, caused a big vacuum as other openings – for parliamentary leader, chief whip and chief executive officer – left newly elected federal council chair Helen Zille floating alone at the top of the ship.

Voting for the new interim leader takes place on November 17.

The winning candidate will stand a good chance of being officially elected as the new party leader when the DA goes to federal congress, projected to take place in April next year.

Senior DA leaders spoke last week of a possible three-way duel between three KwaZulu-Natal heavyweights: former chief whip John Steenhuisen, provincial leader Zwakele Mncwango and outspoken MPL Mbali Ntuli.


Another favourite, City Press has learnt, is former head of policy Gwen Ngwenya, who Zille said had been her preference for federal council chairperson.

Gwen Ngwenya. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

When Ngwenya resigned as policy head in January, Zille agreed with the reasons she had stated for leaving.

Those close to Ngwenya, who is regarded as a purist liberal and has opposed some of the party’s race-based transformation policies, say she has the backing of some of the party’s key funders.

But an associate said that Ngwenya had recently started a business in which she advises companies on policy, and so “she would have to assess if it would be worth it to abandon that project”.


Steenhuisen, who explained that he quit on Thursday as parliamentary chief whip because that position is appointed by the leader, is being pushed by his supporters to stand as interim leader and to contest for the post at next year’s federal congress.

Steenhuisen said on Saturday that for the time being, he had availed himself for the position of interim parliamentary leader.

“It has been a tough 48 hours, as you can imagine, but my priority is stability within the parliamentary caucus and getting us through things like the upcoming mid-term budget.”

He was named as the party’s parliamentary leader on Sunday.

Nominations for the position closed on Friday night and the position was uncontested with only one nomination, said DA caucus chairperson Annelie Lotriet, who had been acting in the position.

As for being leader of the party, Steenhuisen confirmed that he had been approached by several people, but “I am still giving it some thought for now”.

Steenhuisen had initially thrown his hat in the ring for federal council chairperson but withdrew before the deadline for nominations.

He is one of the people Zille said she had hoped would stand for the position.


Mncwango said he had been approached to stand as interim leader and again at next year’s federal congress.

Mbali Ntuli (DA Youth Federal Chair). Picture: Herman Verwey/City Press

He said he had told those who approached him that he needed time to give the proposal some thought.

He wanted to assess whether the environment would be conducive for him and if there was any contribution he would make in that position, so he had not yet ruled out the possibility.

But revelations that Mncwango could avail himself as a candidate caused some ructions within the party in KwaZulu-Natal and among other allies across the country.

DA supporters feel strongly that “he and Ntuli should never contest each other”.

It appears that Ntuli was approached even before Maimane’s resignation, and she seems to have already garnered some support across provinces, particularly among Maimane’s sympathisers.

DA leader Zwakele Mncwango wants answers. Photo by Jabulani Langa

Ntuli also said she had been approached by a number of people, but added that, “unfortunately”, she would not have enough time to canvass and campaign.

“I am out of the country at the moment, so I have not met with anybody. By the time I come back, there will not have been enough time to do a proper canvass and campaign.”


Former Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga, who vied for the post of federal chair and lost to Trollip at last year’s congress, has been touted for the position of interim federal chair.

Msimanga said that he had not been formally lobbied for any position.

“It is something that at the moment I am not looking at. I think I have got too much on my plate to even be available for an internal position. And I do not know whether for me, personally, it is a good time to be standing for any position within the party.”

Solly Msimanga.Picture: Palesa Dlamini/ City Press

It is also very likely that the position of federal chairperson will cease to exist if the recommendations of the review panel to do so are adopted at the policy congress.

“So, whoever gets it will know that it is only for a few months,” said a source in the DA.


Maimane’s resignation hit his allies hard, and although they were expecting it, most are seemingly struggling to regroup and strategise.

They added, however, that there was no time to waste and that the group should be planning their next move.

Read: Maimane also resigns as parliamentary leader and DA member

Maimane had for weeks told those close to him that he would walk if Zille emerged victorious as federal council chairperson.

According to those who attended the federal executive meeting last week, the party’s top brass spent hours trying to convince both Maimane and Trollip to stay, but they failed.

“The two were even given a brief adjournment to reconsider, but their minds had been made up,” said an insider.

A provincial leader told City Press that when concerned members of the party asked Maimane on Wednesday morning about the rumours of his resignation, he was rather evasive.

“He just said that there was a press conference organised for 1pm. We asked whether we could get a briefing on what the press conference was about, but he was uncomfortable to answer this question, or rather reluctant to answer, which automatically meant that the rumours were true,” said the leader.

He did, however, officially tell council members in the meeting that morning of his firm decision.

Even a two-hour private conversation which he had with federal council leader Zille was not enough to change his mind.

“There was a time when they disappeared for two hours, privately, in the building. There was a time when an announcement was made during the federal executive meeting that Mmusi was resigning. Then Trollip said he would also be resigning,” said the source.

“We literally begged them and asked that they not leave. It was traumatic for the party because that was not something we could anticipate.”

The party was hoping that both Maimane and Trollip would delay their resignations until the early congress projected for April.

Meanwhile, Mashaba has played down talk that he and the departed leaders are plotting a new party.

Mashaba said he had “no interest in that and people are just making it up”.

He said he would be taking a break to decide what to do next.

A provincial leader told City Press that he believed Steenhuisen would most likely be the new leader if he was nominated in the upcoming special congress.

“I think Steenhuisen is a strong candidate and I think he will be able to pull it off. I think his credentials in Parliament can be a testament that he has done very well. If it does happen that Steenhuisen is elected, he will be able to the carry the position well.”

Read: Mmusi Maimane was once SA’s most favoured political leader

In the same breath, the provincial leader expressed concern regarding the upcoming elections and whether black voters would still see the DA as a viable option.

“Mmusi was trying his level best to attract the black vote and I think he has managed to a large extent, but not at the level we actually wanted.

“Now what worries me is that in the market we are trying to break into, the black market, we may run the risk of people becoming a little bit unsure – because the trust factor in politics is important.

“What is going to happen when we start campaigning in the black areas – how are the voters going to accept us?”


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