The Democratic Alliance will hold its virtual elective conference this weekend facing a number of challenges. This year alone, the official opposition party has lost three provincial leaders with one saying it is no longer the party he had joined 20 years ago.

This was preceded by the exiting of some senior party leaders including Mmusi Maimane, Herman Mashaba, and Athol Trollip among others.

Athol Trollip’s resignation speech: 

The party has also lost the appeal of voters after losing ground in the 2019 and 2016 local government elections.

Zille on the throne

The DA is the first political party in South Africa to hold its elective conference online, as it seeks to install a full-time leader to take charge of its electoral campaign ahead of the 2021 local government elections.

But the Federal Conference comes at a time when not all is well in the official opposition. Some within the party have attributed its failures to the return of Helen Zille as the Chair of the Federal Council. However, the party’s former leader Mmusi Maimane who left after Zille’s return was too diplomatic on her return.

“I also want to congratulate Helen Zille and wish her well in her election as Federal Council Chairperson. She brings in new energy. She’ll be full-time in the role, and she’ll bring in vigour. The role of Federal Council Chair, which is the role Zille will fulfill, is one she would provide the operational and the structural leadership and management of the organization,” said Maimane at the time.

It has been a year since Zille was elected as Chair of the Federal Council. At the time, she promised not to interfere with how Maimane should run the party.

“It is a very important position within the Democratic Alliance. It is a background position. It is not the leadership position and I will stay in my lane,” said Zille.

SABC speaks to Helen Zille soon after being elected as new Federal Chairperson:

But this was not to be. In fact, after a month in office, three senior leaders including Maimane left the party. They were followed by three provincial leaders including Patricia Kopane, Andrew Louw, and John Moodey who said he longer felt at home within the DA under Zille.

Mmusi Maimane’s resignation speech: 

Differences within the party

Political Analyst Aubrey Matshiqi believes that the party will have its work cut out in dealing with issues the party faces.

“There will be an attempt to deal with critical challenges facing the party; chief amongst them is the challenges of internal unity and cohesion which has been compromised by the lack of policy unity and the lack of unity on ideology matters. It goes to this congress at a time where it seems internally it has yielded to conservative elements, to a conservative right-wing logic, which has ironically run counter with what Helen Zille was trying to do.”

Possible outcomes

Matshiqi sums up the possible outcomes of the Federal Conference as the recalibration of the racist conservatives in the DA.

“The conservative right-wing racist lobby will come stronger and what will be celebrated is that with the election of Steenhuisen, the DA has returned to its true identity as a party of liberal values.”

Only three leadership positions will be up for grabs at this Federal Conference. Interim leader John Steenhuisen and KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli contest the position of party leader. Current Gauteng Chair Mike Moriarty is challenging the powerful position of the DA Federal Council Chair and the other four candidates including Refiloe Ntsheke are vying for the position of the third Deputy Federal Chair.