Unknown member brings vigour to DA leadership race as she contests all top positions

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John Steenhuisen is set to face a contest from former Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse and party member Lungile Phenyane.
John Steenhuisen is set to face a contest from former Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse and party member Lungile Phenyane.
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There may be three names in the DA leader race ballot, but it is essentially a two-way race for the position of DA leader ahead of its highly anticipated contested federal congress scheduled for next month.

Frontrunner and incumbent John Steenhuisen is set to face a contest from former Johannesburg mayor, Mpho Phalatse. They are joined in the race (at least officially) by little known party member Lungile Phenyane.

While Phalatse, whose campaign has been based on the strong need for the DA to focus on growth through rebranding and appealing to the broader population, had expressed confidence that her campaign had gained steam within the official opposition. Steenhuisen seemed set for re-election as he enjoyed the backing of many leaders within the party, including most provincial leaders.

READ: Strong backing for Steenhuisen as he launches campaign for second term

Other positions facing fierce contest ahead of the congress included the positions of federal chairperson and its three deputies, chairperson of federal council and its three deputies and the federal finance chairperson.

While Steehuisen was viewed as a clear favourite to win the race, the only real contest was expected from Phalatse, who had been open about the party needing leadership change and a new approach to politics if it were to be embraced by those who continued to distrust it as representing minority interests.

READ: My leadership will grow the DA – Mpho Phalatse

Phalatse said the party needed real growth ahead of next year’s general election and that this needed rebranding of its messaging.

While very little is known about Phenyane, she has surprisingly put up her name to contest all the leadership positions.

It is unclear how Phenyane’s name had come to dominate the party’s nomination as she admittedly never held any senior party position or represented the party before. The obscure DA member is contesting to be DA federal leader, federal chairperson, deputy federal chairperson, chairperson of federal council, federal finance chairperson and deputy chairperson of federal council.

When called by City Press, 34-year-old Phenyane indicated that she was the party’s activist from Tshwane’s Ward 59 and that she had been supported to throw her name in the ring.

Phenyane, however, refused to reveal much about her campaign, except it was aimed at "promoting unity and fighting for the rights of women and young people".

She could also not recall how many years she had been in the party, saying, "for now, I can say it has been a few years". She also refused to reveal the individuals who were backing her canidature.

She hinted: 

I can only tell you that there is support for me in my branch. I don’t want to talk about names of which leaders supported me now.

Announcing the overall leadership candidature, federal congress presiding officer Greg Krumbock said the process had been "thorough and democratic".

"We are very pleased with the diversity of our candidates as well as the provincial representation and the age diversity," Krumbock added.

Incumbent chairperson of the federal council Helen Zille, who is also vying for re-election, was only facing contest from Phenyane, which set her on a clear path to return to the powerful position.

Among those who were vying for the DA federal chairperson position were incumbent and Western Cape Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer, Qhawekazi Mbatha and Phenyane.

Those who were in the running for the three deputy federal chairperson positions included two incumbents, Anton Bredell and  Refiloe Nt’sekhe, former Eastern Cape provincial leader Nqaba Bhanga, DA MPs Solly Malatsi and Natasha Mazzone, Western Cape interim deputy leader, City of Cape Town councillor JP Smith, as well as KwaZulu-Natal MPL Shehana Kajee.

READ: Beyond good governance, the DA needs ‘feelings’

Limpopo DA leader Jacques Smalle, who was recently reinstated by the party following his 2021 suspension for the alleged abuse of party funds, was the only member of the outgoing federal leadership who did not seek re-election.

READ: DA Limpopo chair Jacques Smalle suspended from party activities

Those vying to deputise Zille included incumbents Thomas Walters, James Masango and Ashor Sarupen, Mogale City mayor Tyrone Gray, Phenyane and Segope Sathekge.

The federal congress is scheduled to be held on April 1-2 at the Gallagher Estate in Midrand, Johannesburg. 

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