South Africa’s largest opposition party on Saturday held a hotly contested two-way race for new leadership in a historic virtual vote seen as a turning point in an organisation dogged by racial tension.
The winner who emerges will seek to reinvigorate the Democratic Alliance (DA) ahead of the next presidential election in 2024 against the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
The centre-right DA suffered a bruising loss in last year’s presidential election, coming second after it garnered only 20.7 percent of votes compared to 22.2 percent previously.
It was then hit by a sudden mass exodus of black leaders who claimed the party was racist.
Competing for the party leadership are John Steenhuisen, who has acted as interim party leader since its first black leader quit over a year ago, and youthful, energetic Mbali Ntuli who promises to inspire South Africans to get behind the DA.
The DA was formed in 2000 as a merger of three mostly white parties.
It has been plagued by internal factions, stoked by its electoral slump in the 2019 national and provincial elections.
“Battle-ready” Steenhuisen, 44, who boasts a 22-year track record in the party, reminded delegates that “when the going got tough, I made sure the DA got going.”
“We have repaired the holes in our fuselage. We have installed powerful new jet engines,” he said in his final address to delegates before voting commenced.
“The turbulence is over, and the next leg of our journey has begun.”
Steenhuisen is up against former DA youth leader and current Kwa-Zulu Natal legislature member Ntuli, 32, who has been highly critical of the “cult-like”, “insider and outsider clique” culture of the party.
“We need a new way of politics,” said Ntuli.
“A way that shows that we are serious about taking this government that has impunity and looting and corruption out of office,” she said taking a jab at the ruling ANC which has been marred by corruption.
The young Black woman stressed that inclusivity, diversity and equality would be key principles under her leadership.
On account of the coronavirus pandemic, the party’s over 2,00 delegates will vote digitally for their prefered candidate.
The results will be announced on Sunday.