Mvenya and Whitfield tipped as favourites to replace Athol Trollip
WHO will replace Athol Trollip as leader of the DA in the Eastern Cape? Lobbying is in full swing as party members prepare for what is expected to be a highly contested provincial elective congress in less than two months.
Of the names bandied about for the top job, DA provincial chairwoman Veliswa Mvenya and Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral committee member Andrew Whitfield are said to be the firm favourites to take over from Trollip.
However, insiders claim that in the interest of mending divisions within the party, and as a compromise of sorts, Whitfield could run for the provincial chairmanship instead.
Ten insiders from various constituencies across the province spoke on condition of anonymity as the nominations process will only formally open next month.
The leadership position is key as the person chosen to lead the official opposition in the province will have the momentous task of expanding the membership and voter base of the DA, particularly that of the elusive black vote.
The DA hopes to rule the Eastern Cape as well as the country in 2019.
It is understood that many within the party feel that to attract black voters and shed its image as a predominantly white party, the DA must elect a black leader at the March 10 and 11 congress to be held in East London.
Others, however, feel that Whitfield – a former MP who ran Trollip’s successful campaign to take over the Bay municipality – is a good administrator and is respected in the Bay where the majority of DA voters in the province reside.
But, they concede, it would not bode well for unity within the party not to have Mvenya succeed Trollip, especially as many feel that until they butted heads last year, Trollip was grooming Mvenya to eventually succeed him.
She resigned in May and subsequently withdraw her resignation shortly after conceding to mounting tensions between herself and Trollip.
Party insiders said there was already a split within the party – the Trollip and Mvenya groups – and if Whitfield took over as leader it would further alienate members who were already disillusioned.
“There are attempts to negotiate with her [Mvenya] to form some kind of unified slate,” one member said. “If not, it would be Veliswa versus Andrew and that would cause even more slates.”
Another member said: “With the fallout between Veliswa and Athol last year, people in our constituencies were concerned.
“I think it would be better to have Veliswa as provincial leader. But people are playing their cards close to their chests.”
One councillor said the “black leader” narrative was being pushed strongly, particularly in the eastern parts of the province.
But the councillor questioned whether it was fair to put a leader in a position only because she is black, or if someone should be elected based on merit.
“It is a very difficult position to be in as a party because no one can oppose someone who is black wanting to be a leader because it causes a major upsett,” the councillor said.
Another councillor said: “There’s a lot of ‘unity leadership’ rumours and because Whitfield is considered a good administrator, it would be better for him to [rather] run for chairperson.”
Whitfield said while he would make himself available to serve on the provincial executive committee (PEC), he had not yet decided on the position he would contest.
He said he would have to have a serious discussion with his fiancee before making any decision as it would be a tremendous sacrifice.
“I’ve served on the PEC before and I think I have some value to add. I have developed a bit of a track record in the party.
“There are a few positions that I need to consider.”
Asked if there were talks of a compromise in a bid to unify the party, Whitfield said: “There are a whole bunch of conversations, but I would really not like to say.”
Mvenya would not say whether she would be contesting the leadership position, but confirmed that she had been approached to make herself available.
“For now, the lobbying is informal. We are waiting for the processes to start formally,” she said.
Asked whether the DA was ready for its first woman leader in the province, she laughed and responded: “As long as it’s a DA member and they have the capacity and can take the DA forward, everyone is free to contest.” — Rochelle de Kock firstname.lastname@example.org – Additional reporting by Avuyile Mngxitama-Diko