DA insiders say donor pressure cited as reason to go to virtual congress

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DA interim leader John Steenhuisen, flanked by chief whip Natasha Mazzone and national chairperson Ivan Meyer.
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen, flanked by chief whip Natasha Mazzone and national chairperson Ivan Meyer.
Jan Gerber, News24
  • The DA federal council heard donor anxiety was part of the reasons why the party should go to virtual congress, insiders said.
  • Party insiders said federal finance chairperson Dion George, interim leader John Steenhuisen and interim federal executive chairperson Ivan Meyer raised donor concerns. 
  • The federal council voted in favour of a virtual congress.

APOLOGY: A previous version of this story failed to give the interim federal leader of the DA, John Steenhuisen, the right to reply. We apologise for this. His response is below at the end of the report. 

 

One of the key considerations driving the DA to a virtual conference was the anxiety of its donors, party insiders told News24, saying this was discussed during the federal council meeting this weekend. 

According to them, federal finance chairperson Dion George was the first to sound the alarm over donor pressure, with interim leader John Steenhuisen and interim federal executive chairperson Ivan Meyer making supporting arguments. 

One DA leader told News24 George made the argument donors needed to be certain of the direction of the party which necessitated a virtual conference. He said George had said donors were playing a wait-and-see game on who would emerge as party leader. 

"John said donors tell him they want a leader who has a clear mandate. They were pushing the donor argument as if we are beholden to donors," the party insider said. 

READ | Steenhuisen's supporters upbeat after virtual congress approved

This after News24 reported an overwhelming majority of council members voted in favour of a virtual conference, putting Steenhuisen a step closer toward taking charge of the party. Another party insider and MP said donors needed to know what direction the DA was going.

"That is a legitimate question to understand who is going to lead the party and the direction of the party. When the council took its decision, it took into account many veering aspects of the discussion.

"The most important was that the DA needs to start readying itself for local government with democratically elected leadership," one party leader said. 

News24 understands about 82% of the delegates voted for the virtual federal congress on Sunday.

A party insider, however, said many "reluctantly voted in favour of a virtual conference on condition that outstanding issues will be resolved".   

ALSO READ | Will virtual be a reality? DA to decide if it will go to congress

Speaking to News24, federal council chairperson Helen Zille said 101 members voted in favour of the conference, 22 against and 10 council leaders abstained.

The MP said the majority of those who voted against the virtual congress were from KwaZulu-Natal. 

Party to hold full congress

The council also took a decision to hold a full two-day congress on 31 October and 1 November.

Previously, the party's federal executive had proposed it only hold elections with constitutional amendments and resolutions deviated to council. This was challenged by some leaders, including John Moodey, who threatened to go to the courts for a declaratory order on the party's constitution. 

Legal opinion

Party spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the federal executive had sought legal opinion from its federal legal commission (FLC) on what would constitute a full congress. 

"[The] FLC submitted a report which stipulated what is needed to make a full congress, including the tabling of a financial report, constitutional amendments and resolutions.

"The outcome is that the virtual congress will be a full congress and it stipulates how motions and policy can be done. For instance, constitutional amendments are being done in the build-up so that during the course of the congress the matter will be yay or nay," he added. 

Among those who raised concerns over the virtual congress were Moodey and KZN heavyweight Mbali Ntuli, party insiders told News24.

Moodey said the party would be putting delegates at risk of infection if they asked them to congregate at voting venues, adding councillors had indicated the challenges in hosting safe face-to-face branch annual general meetings.

When News24 spoke to DA Gauteng chairperson Mike Moriarty last week, he said AGMs could be the decider on whether or not the party could legitimately go to its elective congress.

The deadline for AGMs is 31 August.

News24 understands that Moodey said going ahead with a virtual congress for the sake of embracing the virtual world as a new norm at a critical stage of the Covid-19 infection "would bring our own internal democracy into question".

He added it would be tantamount to economic exclusion, which was contrary to the DA's principles of freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity.

One party leader said the issue of vote rigging and voter manipulation was also raised as a concern. 

"The process will be flawed and open to challenges, court challenges. If one delegate cries foul, this entire thing can be overturned. You can't have a legitimate congress when people are meeting in pockets," the party leader said. 

Malatsi said concerns were raised over electronic voting but were dealt with sufficiently. 

"The Eastern Cape will be first indicator of what and where to improve. Every concern was responded to in detail. The report was clear on how to circumvent connectivity issues.

"We will take consideration of delegates with even comorbidities. We are putting measures in place to get resources so that those individuals can participate in the comfort of their homes. Any concern that was raised was responded to in detail".


READ JOHN STEENHUISEN'S FULL COMMENT BELOW:

“Loathe as I am to respond to cowardly “anonymous sources” this utter claptrap cannot go unanswered. These distortions are clearly drip-fed into the media by individuals who did not get their way at the federal council and who’s arguments did not prevail at the meeting. Instead of respecting democratic outcomes they, through compliant journalists, seek to peddle myths and distortions about what transpired at the meeting.

"All of our remarkable progress over the past nine months as a party could very well be undone if we enter the 2021 local government elections without a democratically elected leadership. Why would anyone vote for a political party that cannot even elect its own leaders? Democratic consent and accountability are key values that cement the core of the DA.

"These inform how we operate and how we aspire to govern and cannot be discarded when circumstances become difficult. Leaders in the party- regardless of who they are- must have a democratic mandate from the party that they lead. Whoever is elected leader of the party must have the broad mandate of DA members to lead the party into an election with the boldness and determination that will be needed to show South Africans how much the DA has progressed since our setback in election 2019. 

"That leader will need a mandate from the membership of the party to negotiate coalitions of hope for the many hung municipalities across South Africa. The electorate, our public representatives, and our activists who will contest the election will expect nothing less of us, and these arguments, and not “donor pressure”, are what underpinned our Federal Councils overwhelming 82% decision to opt for a hybrid congress”

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