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S.African main opposition party elects new leader

South Africa’s largest opposition party on Sunday elected John Steenhuisen as their leader, who vowed to take the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA) to greater heights after a slump in electoral support.

Steenhuisen, who has acted as interim party leader since its first black leader Mmusi Maimane quit over a year ago, has also served as party chief whip in parliament.

The triumph will see him lead the DA in the 2024 presidential elections against the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

In his acceptance speech, Steenhuisen said under his leadership “people power” would be the order of the day, promising to “fight to give power and opportunities to every law-abiding, honest and hard-working citizen, regardless of their background”.

Securing a whopping 80 percent of the historic virtual vote, veteran John Steenhuisen delivered a crushing victory over his youthful, energetic competitor Mbali Ntuli.

“We choose our leaders on the basis of their ideas, the content of their character and their potential to lead our party into new territory,” Steenhuisen said.

“Thank you to each and every DA delegate… for the trust you have placed in me,” he added.

The centre-right party has been plagued by internal factions, stoked by its electoral slump in the 2019 national and provincial elections.

It garnered 20.7 percent of votes, compared to 22.2 percent in the previous election.

Formed in 2000 as a merger of three mostly white parties, the DA has struggled to stave off its white, middle-class identity.

This was further compounded by a mass exodus of black leaders, including the former mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, who claimed the party was racist.

On account of the coronavirus pandemic, the party’s over 2,000 delegates voted digitally for their preferred candidate.

The DA, traditionally South Africa’s second party has positioned itself as a non-racial, liberal party.

But it faces an uphill battle to win favour with voters in the country grappling with the legacy of apartheid, where white households on average earn five times more than their black counterparts.