The two dark horses in the race for DA federal council chair

Mmusi Maimane's political future could well be determined this weekend as the DA elects a new federal council chairperson.  (Getty Images)
Mmusi Maimane's political future could well be determined this weekend as the DA elects a new federal council chairperson. (Getty Images)

Many inside and outside of DA circles believe the race for federal council leader is mainly between two of the party's heavyweights, although some within feel Thomas Walters and Mike Waters may have a fighting chance. 

This weekend, candidates enter into battle and the stakes are high for the DA. Depending on who emerges victorious, the results could lead to a huge shift in the party. 

READ | DA leaders pulled from public debate ahead of federal council vote

The focus has largely been on federal chairperson Athol Trollip and former party leader Helen Zille - who have gone toe to toe in the past in bruising factional wars. 

Waters belongs to the "old bloc", a faction that recruited Zille, ultimately leading to her resurrection in politics.

This faction has resisted DA leader Mmusi Maimane's ambition of appealing to black voters. Instead, they wanted to reconnect with their white base.

Waters vs Zille voter split 

READ | Waters believes his 'non-racial, classical liberal' agenda gaining traction for top DA job

Some DA members who have spoken to News24 believe that either Waters or Zille will have to drop from the race as they share similar views.

One party insider said the horse-trading talks have focused on which of the two contenders would be willing to drop out of the race.

Zille, has a more prolific public profile, but has led the party before. Some classical liberals believe its Waters' turn to hold the fort and take the party back to its old values. 

Waters recently made headlines when he requested documentary proof that Maimane was paying rent out of his own pocket for a Claremont home.

READ | 'I can't let the DA simply unravel without putting in a huge and final effort' - Zille

The request followed a City Press report that Maimane had declared a R4m house in the Cape Town suburb in a parliamentary register, even though the property never belonged to him.

Subsequently, the DA's financial committee cleared Maimane of any wrongdoing. 

Waters earlier spoke to News24, saying that the non-racial agenda of reclaiming the DA's liberal values was striking a chord.

Asked what he would do if elected, he said he would be "unequivocally non-racial" and reject black economic empowerment (BEE).

"[It] doesn't work and is racist." 

Waters words echo that of the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) which believes that the DA should resist race-based policies.  

The IRR, which recruited Zille as its fellow, has been muddied by DA factional wars.

Party leaders have accused the organisation of attempting to influence its political and policy direction. 

A win for Waters would ultimately lead to the demise of Maimane and his ambitions. 

Walters, a neutral candidate 

The DA's acting federal chair, Walters, is believed to be playing a neutral role. Two party insiders say voting for Walters would be a fundamental flaw. 

One provincial leader told News24 Walters' traditional political approach would not survive in the current climate. 

"He is definitely a dark horse. It's hard to place him. We need someone with a clear direction. The party is at a crossroads."

Political analyst Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana believes Walters would most likely step out of the race to make way for Trollip. 

"Walters is with Trollip. It doesn't make sense to split your ticket. It always makes sense, if you're like-minded, for one to pull out. I wouldn't be surprised if that happened because ultimately, you might split the vote."

Ndletyana agrees that this weekend's elections would ultimately shape the DA's policy going forward. 

"It's about whether or not the DA goes back into what it was or continues to attract black voters. Maimane made this his ticket and that is why he took his office to Johannesburg, away from Cape Town.

"There has been resistance because for you to attempt to attract black voters, you have to talk about what affects black voters, land reform and so on. The DA's current policy does not speak to transformation. Maimane wants to go that path and others are resisting. If Helen wins, Mmusi is as good as dead," Ndletyana said.

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