Stage is set for Democratic Alliance’s big weekend in Nelson Mandela Bay

MAY 8, 2015

Delegates and the media from across South Africa have been arriving in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro ahead of the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) much anticipated 2015 Federal Congress, which among other things will decide on Sunday the party’s next leader after Helen Zille steps down

The Congress, which is starting on Saturday at the Boardwalk International Convention Centre, in Port Elizabeth, is being held under the theme “building one nation with one future underpinned by Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity for all”, according to the party.

Still, all eyes will be on the leadership race between the DA’s Parliamentary leader, Mmusi Maimane, and Federal Chairperson, Wilmot James.

In 2007, the Congress overwhelmingly elected Zille after Tony Leon stepped down.

Race for the top

While Maimane and James have maintained their campaigns fairly logical, on Wednesday James raised eyebrows when he accused Maimane of casting negativity on their respective campaigns following the publishing of a statement by the party’s Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, and Maimane's campaign manager, Geordin Hill-Lewis.

In a post on the website, Politicsweb, Hill-Lewis stated that remarks made by James in an interview with The Star, where he reportedly claimed that Maimane’s vision for the DA was similar to that of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), was uncalled for and couldn’t be left unchallenged.

“In 2010, one year into his first term as a DA MP, James told an interviewer that he would vote for the ANC if Trevor Manuel were its President. Indeed, James worked closely with the ANC throughout the 1990s and would later describe himself in an interview as an ANC sympathiser during those years,” Hill-Lewis wrote.

“He was never a member of the Democratic Party, or any of its predecessor parties, and only joined the DA in August 2008 – a few months before he became a Member of Parliament. Perhaps this is why James’ claim to be a “liberal stalwart” ring rather hollow”.

Referring to his campaign, Hill-Lewis said that James was one of the people who supported the party’s failed Employment Equity Amendment Bill in 2013 and that his flip-flopping on “race-based redress has been nothing short of spectacular”.

Last weekend, an email claiming that Maimane was part of a sex ring amongst senior male figures of the DA also made rounds.

The email indicted five senior party members as having had sexual relations with certain female party figures and offering them senior positions in return for sexual favours. They include Maimane, Eastern Cape leader Athol Trolip, Chief Whip John Steenhuisen, CEO Paul Boughey and Shadow Minister of Communications, Gavin Davis.

Responding to the allegations, Maimane told The Star that the accusations were “intent on damaging me” adding that its sudden reveal before the DA’s elective conference was “not coincidental”.

“I have been in contact with my staff members and none of them has made any complaints. We have a campaign and we are focused on that. We have no time for this nonsense,” he said.

Hill-Lewis described the allegations as “false and destructive” and said that James, Maimane and Trolip, who is running for Federal leadership, are “united in the utter condemnation of the email and the author”.

“The campaign is focused on the future of the DA and on trying to build the DA. This email is not condoned by any of the candidates,” he said.

Meanwhile, Maimane, who arrived in the Nelson Mandela Bay earlier on, spent some time at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) where the DA Student Organisation (DASO) controls the Student Representative Council (SRC).

Last weekend, DASO also staged a major upset to the African National Congress (ANC)-aligned South African Students’ Congress (SASCO).

Holding the Congress in the Nelson Mandela Bay seems not purely by chance as the DA has not hidden its intention to wrestle the municipality from the African National Congress (ANC) in next year’s Local Government Elections.

The DA’s Andrew Whitfield tweeted that the congress this weekend will “show this Metro and the country that we are ready” to govern.

Sabotage

On Friday, the DA accused the ANC of trying to sabotage its congress after the SABC indicated that they were pulling out of their agreement with the party for live coverage of the congress on national TV.

The DA has since filed papers in the South Gauteng High Court against SABC.

Jibes

The leadership race has not gone without ridicules from ANC members.

Energy Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, on Wednesday called on Maimane to “free himself from his oppressors” and enjoy the benefits of freedom.

Speaking during a Freedom Day debate in Parliament, the minister said that Maimane must take a cue from his predecessor, Lindiwe Mazibuko, and Agang founder, Mamphela Ramphele, and run for his life before the party’s elective conference.

“Run Mmusi, run Honourable Maimane run run,” she said, to which DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen reportedly replied, “He is running for president”.

Rehearsals at the Boardwalk Convention Centre ahead of the DA Congress. Image: DA via twitter.