Riyaz Patel

DA leader candidate John Steenhuisen wants to mould the “big blue, wobbly” party into an “iron fortress” at the centre of South African politics.

Steenhuisen announced that he will be in the running to become the interim DA leader November’s Federal Council session and federal leader at the Federal Congress next year addressing the Cape Town Press Club. 

He acknowledged that the previous week had “dealt a significant blow to [their] cause,” but insisted that the DA remains relevant, albeit “wobbly.”

Last Sunday, former leader Helen Zille – who, incidentally in 2007, also announced her candidature for the DA’s top job at an event of the press club – was elected to the position of chairperson of the DA’s federal council.

Zille’s election triggered a series of high-profile resignations from the party, starting with Herman Mashaba announcing that he was quitting as mayor of Johannesburg, and culminating in the resignation of party leader Mmusi Maimane Wednesday, along with that of federal chair Athol Trollip.

Maimane had also resigned as DA MP Thursday vacating his position as parliamentary leader, effectively rendering the party leaderless.

On Thursday, Steenhuisen was no longer chief whip of the opposition, as his term is dependent on that of the parliamentary leader. 

The DA announced Sunday that Steenhuisen had been elected parliamentary leader, as he was the only person nominated for the position when nominations closed Friday evening.

Steenhuisen expressed his disappointment by the DA’s poor performance in the May 2019 elections, and scoffed at the notion of “a winning loss.”

“Equally, we must stop beating up on our own supporters who have expressed concern at what they see as a slide into populism.

“If you look at the parties that grew in the last election, they were characterised by being absolutely clear about who they were, what they were about, and what they were fighting for.”

He described the DA as a “big blue, wobbly jelly.”

“With nothing holding us upright, we wobbled to the left and wobbled to the right, buffeted by the political winds and latest populist cause du jour. Now, I know that many people may like jelly, but nobody orders it for dessert when they go out for dinner.”

The task for the DA is now clear, he said, “We need to find our spine again.

“We must confidently evangelise non-racialism, while maintaining our commitment to redress and reconciliation. We must reconnect with those voters who feel abandoned by us, while winning the votes of South Africans who have never voted for us before.

The DA needs to become an iron fortress that stands firm at the centre – as the bastion of hope and change,” he said.

He wants the DA to have a compelling policy offer.

“We need to do this by becoming an alternative to the ANC, and not an alternative ANC, setting clear blue water between them and our DA.”

He added: “Let me be clear. No individual in the DA can claim to be a liberal if they do not support the fight against poverty.”

Asked if Zille would be the power behind the throne, Steenhuisen said he and the DA Federal chair go back a long way and had “had a few scraps.”

He added that said she was elected in a four-way contest, and “didn’t elect herself.”

“If we’re democrats, true democrats, we must respect democratic processes.”

He said he looked “forward to pointing out the yellow lines from time to time,” in reference to Zille’s promise that she would stay “in her lane” as chairperson of the DA Federal Council.  

Additional reporting by News24

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