DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille has swiftly moved to allay concerns expressed by federal leader hopeful Mbali Ntuli that a virtual leadership conference would not be free, fair or credible.
Zille, in a letter to public representatives of the party, which News24 has seen, sought to clear some of the confusion over the decision taken by the party's federal executive (Fedex) to hold its much-anticipated leadership congress via a virtual platform.
While she made no mention of Ntuli in her letter, Zille encouraged members to wait for proper platforms within the organisation to raise their views, instead of going to the media.
Ntuli's letter, which was sent to public representatives on Monday, raised a number of issues, including security concerns, the voting process and some delegates being left out.
She also questioned how delegates were expected to participate in a full-day conference in a country with high data costs.
In her letter, Zille says the Fedex meeting did not approve of the entire conference being held via virtual platforms, but had felt a leader was required to lead the DA into the 2021 local government elections.
"It is relatively simple to hold an elective congress online. It will also be perfectly possible to hold branch AGMs [annual general meetings] online, to elect branch leadership, as well as delegates to an elective congress and other structures," she said.
The DA is set to hold the leadership conference in October after having postponed it due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The country instituted a lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with a ban on large gatherings, among many other regulations.
More than 2 000 DA delegates are expected to vote for a new federal leader to replace Mmusi Maimane, who resigned in 2019 following a difficult year for the party, which included a decline in support at the national polls.
His resignation threw the party into further turmoil as other leaders also stepped down, including businessman and former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.
In agreeing with Ntuli's sentiments over the need for protracted uninterrupted connectivity to sit through a two-day conference, Zille said such a situation could see some delegates facing obstacles of full access.
The federal council chairperson added branches would receive the necessary support to ensure the process was free and fair.
She said the Eastern Cape had already held all its AGMs and the Northern Cape was ready to proceed. It would be the pilot project that would shape how these were conducted in the party across the country.
"I had a full briefing on the proposed methodology today, and it will enable every valid branch member to cast a vote - whether online, or by email, SMS, WhatsApp, telephone call, or in person, at specific voting districts set up in specific areas."
Zille said an assessment of access to infrastructure required to vote would be done on each delegate, with arrangements then being made to ensure they could cast a secret vote.
She added that Adriana Frith, the director of campaign technology in the DA, had been tasked with finding the right mode for this to be done.
"The party will ensure every delegate has data to fulfil this function. If people live so remotely that it is impossible to get any form of connectivity at any time during this period, the party will subsidise transport to enable the delegate to get to a more urban context to cast their ballot online, where connectivity exists."
Zille said the organisation was working to ensure candidates had equal access to those contesting leadership positions in the party.
When News24 reached out to her for comment, she said the circular had all that she wanted to say, adding she would send out many circulars to party members to explain each step taken towards the elective conference.