DA's proposed virtual elective conference in October believed to favour Steenhuisen

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DA interim leader John Steenhuisen after his speech to launch his campaign to become the party's leader at the Hellenic Hall, Mouile Point, Cape Town. (Jan Gerber, News24)
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen after his speech to launch his campaign to become the party's leader at the Hellenic Hall, Mouile Point, Cape Town. (Jan Gerber, News24)

The DA's Federal Executive (FedEx) will recommend to the party's Federal Council (FedCo) that they hold their leadership election via a virtual platform at the end of October – a development believed to work in favour of interim leader John Steenhuisen's bid to become the permanent leader.

On Saturday, the party held a virtual FedEx meeting. Several sources have described to News24 what transpired.

At the meeting, DA Gauteng MPL Makashule Gana proposed that the leadership election be held after next year's local government elections. This was seconded by KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango.

READ | Lockdown: DA calls for parliamentary oversight of state of disaster in Concourt bid

News24 understands that other leaders who spoke against the proposal included youth leader Luyolo Mphithi, Yusuf Cassim and Nomafrench Mbombo. 

DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone made a counterproposal that the elective conference be held on 31 October. This was seconded by Mpumalanga leader Jane Sithole.

Challenges

The reasoning behind the proposal for the delayed conference is the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. There was also an argument that a virtual election would leave out the poor, given access to technology and areas with poor network coverage.

Another argument rang that it would be unfair to Steenhuisen's competitors for the top spot, Mbali Ntuli and John Moodey. There won't be public debates, and Ntuli and Moodey won't be able to address crowds, while Steenhuisen has more access due to his position as interim leader.

The reasoning for the proposal to have the elective conference on 31 October was that Steenhuisen couldn't lead the party into the local government elections without a full mandate, as the 120-member FedCo elected him interim leader after the dramatic events of October last year, and his legitimacy is being questioned.

Profile | John Steenhuisen: 'The DA is in a far healthier position than it was a year ago'

Initially, several FedCo members were opposed to the idea of the October virtual elective conference. One leader told News24 some members of the federal executive argued that the annual general meetings would not be concluded in time for the election.

"How do we have AGMs when branches don't have the infrastructure? It's not practical," the leader said.

FedCo chairperson Helen Zille then made what has been described by one of News24's sources as a "compelling argument", with a PowerPoint presentation with information from technological experts.

In the end, this swayed enough FedEx members to approve a recommendation to FedCo to have the elective conference at the end of October.

Reservations

News24 understands Gana, Mncwango and Moodey voted against the proposal, and some FedEx members abstained, as there remained some reservations. Zille promised that the concerns will be addressed at the FedCo meeting. In a statement released on Sunday morning, she confirmed the FedEx resolution.

She said she and the party's chief operations officer Liana van Wyk would prepare a detailed proposal on plans for holding an elective conference via an accessible, secure, digital platform, "with systems in place to ensure that every delegate will be able to participate fully and fairly".

This proposal will be submitted for scrutiny and ratification at the party's online FedCo meeting in July.

Zille said since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, the party has been working online.

"So far, our Federal Executive, Provincial and Regional Executives, Constituencies, the Parliamentary Caucus, the Provincial Caucuses and many of our Council Caucuses have moved their work onto online and videoconferencing software to ensure that the business of our internal democracy continues, and that the DA represents the needs and aspirations of voters during this difficult time," read her statement.

"Our biggest strength as a party is resilience. We are able to diagnose problems, and develop innovative solutions to them. This has never been more apparent than during the Covid-19 lockdown crisis."

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