Steenhuisen and Ntuli both want to reach the Union Buildings, but differ on the route

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  • Both Mbali Ntuli and John Steenhuisen have their eyes set on the Union Buildings and want to strengthen the party's grassroots.
  • Steenhuisen emphasised discipline, particularly message discipline.
  • Ntuli said she did not think disagreements were a bad thing and placed greater emphasis on diversity.

Both Mbali Ntuli and John Steenhuisen have the same stated end destination for the party they intend to lead - the Union Buildings. However, they differ on the route they want to take to get there.

This was clear in the speeches they gave to the just more than 2 000 delegates of the DA's virtual federal congress on Saturday morning, minutes before the voting, through a remote electronic system.

"I'm battle-tested, and I am ready to lead you in the fight to save our beautiful country. It will be the fight of our lives but, together, we can win it!" said Steenhuisen.

He added every single DA member must focus on the voters - "all of them" - and every South African should know the party's vision for the country and how it planned to rescue it from "this criminal clique in power".

Ntuli said she believed her vision "can make the DA kind, strong and fair in a way that can show South Africans that we are ready to take the DA to be a majority government in this country".

"As your leader, I want us to reinvigorate the imagination of what our South African politics could be like.

"And that's why I've said we need a new way of politics, a way that shows that we are serious about taking this government that has had impunity and looting and corruption out of office and that we will make South Africans work by professionalising our public service by making sure that every single person has a future where they have dignity and can really find their purpose in the world," she added.

This is not where the similarities ended: both candidates wanted to strengthen the party's grassroots, with Steenhuisen emphasising the importance of the party's activists and promising to empower them, while Ntuli focused more on the party's councillors, but also saying branches should be empowered.

"And I believe that reigniting our activist base will be key to winning power from the ANC in 2024. Times may have changed, but there is no substitute for face-to-face communication with voters," Steenhuisen said.

Ntuli added she wanted to empower councillors to "build the kinds of profiles and brands that can really show South Africans at the coalface of politics that the DA is serious about being with them at every single place".

The difference is how the candidates expect party members to relate to the party.

Steenhuisen, as he did when he became interim leader about a year ago and on the campaign trail, emphasised the need for internal and message discipline, while Ntuli would rather see 100 flowers blossom.

Taking a thinly veiled dig at Ntuli - who was sharp in her criticism of the party establishment on the campaign trail - and other recent departures from the party, Steenhuisen said: "But instead of threatening to leave the party I love, I asked all of you to join hands with me. And, instead of criticising the DA in the media, I worked hard to rebuild its image. Because we all know that South Africa can only work, if the DA works.

"In the many virtual and in-person meetings I have held across the length and breadth of the country, I reaffirmed my deep commitment to restoring discipline, including message discipline.

"We must stop talking only to ourselves. And we must stop talking to the media about our internal party matters," Steenhuisen said.

In contrast, Ntuli said she ran her campaign "showing that what I want for this party is for everybody to feel included in our decision-making and in the way that the party is able to negotiate our shared values".

"I don’t think that disagreements or seeing things differently is a bad thing," she added.

"The idea of diversity as part of our shared principles is the one that should be cherished the most as the Democratic Alliance and I want to move our party to a place where everyone feels they have equal ability to say where they believe the Democratic Alliance should be going and on how we should be talking to voters on the ground because we only exist to try and win votes to show people what the Democratic Alliance can do."

Both candidates pointed out they have been long-serving members of the party.

ALSO READ | DA elective conference: Who supports who?

Steenhuisen, who mentioned he joined the then-DP in 1994 as an activist, put the advantage of having been interim leader in the wake of last year's ructions to use. He likened the party to an aeroplane whose engines were spluttering and said under his leadership the fuselage had been restored and powerful new engines put in.

"The turbulence is over, and the next leg of our journey has begun. It is time to open the throttle and take to the skies," he said.

Ntuli said: "I've been in this party for 14 years, I know what it takes to be in different communities. I was in rural communities, villages, townships and in suburbia and I believe, as the Democratic Alliance, we need to tap into every single type of person in this party and every single type of person in South Africa and show them that they can belong in the Democratic Alliance, that we will fight for them, that we will never scapegoat them, that we will make sure that they have a future in this country.

"If we can do this, if we can excite South Africans behind us again, despite what happened last year, we will make sure that people in this country are able to look at us differently."


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