The election of Bonginkosi Madikizela as the Western Cape Democratic Alliance leader is proof that the official opposition is rapidly transforming itself from being a white-led political party. Its leadership line-up in the province now represents the spectrum of race groups in South Africa and arguably helps to make the DA the most non-racial political party in the country. The Cape Messenger editor believes it represents a victory for transformation
The election at the weekend of Bonginkosi Madikizela as provincial leader is the fulfilment of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s plan to drastically blacken the leadership of the once white-led Democratic Alliance.
Madikizela is an MEC in her government. Zille personally encouraged him to join the DA – he had originally been an African National Congress supporter. During her recent twitter drama, over which she nearly lost her membership of the party, he was the one provincial leader – he was acting as Western Cape leader at the time – who stood by and defended her.
His election, apparently by just six votes over Lennit Max, may prove to be a pyrrhic victory – as Max came dangerously close to snatching the leadership at his fourth attempt. But Madikizela represents the ultimate disruptor of the status quo – he is a black African now leading a broadly liberal party in a province where white and coloured voters hold the keys to power. If he leads the party into the 2019 election, white and coloured voters will be voting for a black candidate for premier for the first time.
There is a wee bit of doubt that the leadership line-up will stay in place, because 1060 people seem to have voted in the election – held on Saturday 7 October – although it had been announced that there were 998 voters in the hall who were eligible to vote. With a leadership margin of six, a recount could see an upset. But that remains to be seen.
Some commentators in the Cape Town media have made a lot of noise about old Independent Democrats’ leaders being side-lined in the DA. This is a politically imaginative. Madikizela replaces Patricia de Lille, the former ID leader, who voluntarily stood down as provincial leader in January.
Although Lennix Max also hails from the ID, he is certainly not part of the De Lille ID faction – if there is such a thing. They have had a major fallout which culminated in his being suspended as an ID Member of Parliament – before he crossed the floor to the DA. He entered the DA years before she imploded her party into the DA. So it is just nonsense that he was an ID faction candidate against Madikizela.
A coloured leader, Albert Fritz, was elected deputy provincial leader.
Anton Bredell, a provincial MEC and an Afrikaner, was re-elected chairperson against an old National Party stalwart Anroux Marais, who is also an MEC and Western Cape MPL Mazisole Mnqasela. Neither of Bredell’s opponents is linked to in any way to the ID faction, although Marais is understood to be close to De Lille.
Shaun August, a Cape Town city councillor and caucus chief whip, was elected as one of three deputy chairpersons. He is a key ally of De Lille. But JP Smith – who has been involved in a public spat with De Lille and has been suspended from party political activities while the party carries out an investigation – was also elected as a deputy provincial chairperson – as was Antoinette Steyn, a white woman. She is also mayor of the Breede Valley (Worcester) municipality.
DA MP Andricus van der Westhuizen maintained his position as provincial finance chairperson. He defeated former MP Dion George and James Hamilton.
While one would normally desist from colour-coding politicians, in South Africa it is a necessity: Madikizela is a Xhosa-speaking black person, Albert Fritz, his deputy, is a coloured bilingual man, Anton Bredell is an Afrikaans speaking white Afrikaner. Smith is a bilingual English and Afrikaans-speaking white man, August is an Afrikaans speaking coloured person, Steyn is a white Afrikaans woman. Andricus van der Westhuizen is an Afrikaans speaking white man. It pretty much reflects the population makeup of the Western Cape.
In a province where white and coloured voters constitute about 75% of the provincial electorate, it is doubly significant that the DA has chosen an African black leader. Although he has been cautious about holding any ambitions of being provincial Premier, he is likely to step up to the plate when Zille retires in 2019. He would be the first African black to hold that post since 1994 – not even the ANC has elected an African black leader in the Western Cape.
What is significant about the elective provincial conference is that there are two significant groupings in the party. The one group can be broadly dubbed a non-racial liberal group – around Zille and Madikizela. The other group is broadly an Afrikaner nationalist grouping, which of course, includes coloured Afrikaans speakers. They are almost equally represented in the party structures.
The outcome of this provincial line-up represents a political compromise between these two groupings. It is good news for internal democracy that power is so finely balanced in the Western Cape DA.