The DA’s federal council has concluded the election of its interim leadership, with former chief whip and parliamentary lead John Steenhuisen now at the helm.
Steenhuisen will lead the party until its next federal conference in April 2020. Also in the interim, Ivan Meyer will act as the party’s chairperson.
Steenhuisen and Meyer are replacing Mmusi Maimane and Athol Trollip in the respective roles, after the latter two politicians left the party in October.
Maimane and Trollip were part of the leadership identified in an internal DA review of the party’s performance in the 2019 national election, where the DA lost voter support.
Much of the criticism levelled against the DA, and Maimane in particular, had to do with policy shifts and mixed messages regarding the DA’s position on pertinent topics.
This was particularly around things like land redistribution and black economic empowerment.
While the DA, under former leader Helen Zille, had maintained a non-racialist approach to these topics, the DA under Maimane sought to address the racialised nature of inequality in South Africa, and pull its policies in line with addressing this.
However, this left some voters feeling alienated from the party, analysts have noted, likely leading to the loss at the polls in 2019.
Following his election as interim leader, Steenhuisen said that he would not leave the door open for uncertainty on policy, and would stick to his guns on matters.
“I will shoot straight. I will not have different conversations with different people. My views will be consistent, and you will always know where you stand,” he said.
Addressing members of the DA, he said his door will be open at all times, and stressed that he wasn’t looking to forge a cult of personality.
“We are colleagues and we are public servants. We are not a party of leader worship and deferential titles. The DA is about big principles, not big personalities.”
Steenhuisen said that the party should steer clear of populist policies and focus on sticking to its values.
“The DA has to be a party grounded in values, and not one led by whatever happens to be the populist cause of the day. Just because we’re at the centre of our political landscape, doesn’t mean we must try to be everything to everyone.
“The DA must be a fixed and steadfast signpost that South Africans can depend on, and not a weathervane spinning in the ever-changing wind,” he said.
He countered the perception that the DA was ignoring the role of race in inequality in South Africa, but also rejected race-based policies – such as those championed by the ANC and EFF – as ways to solve this issue.
“Apartheid was a brutal and unjust system that continues to haunt the lives of millions of South Africans two and a half decades after it came to an end. Those who still suffer the effects of past discrimination need to benefit from redress,” he said.
“But we don’t need to resort to crude race classification to do so. We can target redress policies directly at the poorest in our society, almost all of whom are black.
“The fact is, 25 years of race-based redress policies have made things far worse for the poor and the unemployed. Redress must actually improve the lives of poor South Africans, rather than just enrich the elite.
“It is spurious to argue that only race-based policies can lift people out of poverty. That is a false choice.
“We will be a party marked by generosity, empathy, and deep commitment to fighting poverty. And we will be a party that sees every person for their true worth and limitless potential, not just as a demographic statistic,” he said.
Read: Maimane quits the DA