John Steenhuisen in his office at parliament. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF
John Steenhuisen in his office at parliament. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/RUVAN BOSHOFF

Former DA chief whip John Steenhuisen and KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango are the first two senior leaders to publicly say they are considering throwing their hats in the ring for the position of party leader. 

Steenhuisen ceased being chief whip after Mmusi Maimane announced on Thursday that he was resigning from the DA and parliament, less than 24 hours after he resigned as leader.

The chief whip is appointed by the leader, and because Maimane resigned from parliament, Steenhuisen’s term has ended. Maimane resigned as party leader on Wednesday. He was followed by Athol Trollip, who stepped down as federal chair. 

Mncwango and Steenhuisen said they were being lobbied by some in the party and were considering standing when the early congress convenes next year.  

The DA will remain leaderless, however, until its federal council sits in about two weeks. This was after SA’s second biggest party was plunged into further uncertainty as a result of the senior resignations in the past few days.  

The party is now without a leader, federal chair, parliamentary leader and chief whip.

As divisions become more apparent within the DA, there is mounting speculation that more MPs and members of the provincial legislatures could resign in the coming days in solidarity with Maimane.

The City of Johannesburg will also be without a mayor on November 27 when Herman Mashaba’s resignation from the DA takes effect. He publicly trashed the DA on Monday, saying it is no longer the party he joined after Helen Zille was elected as its federal council chair at the weekend.   

Steenhuisen told Business Day that when the parliamentary caucus met on Thursday morning it had not been informed that Maimane was resigning and only became aware of this when they saw his tweet.

Steenhuisen had to immediately announce that he would have to step down and the caucus appointed MP Jacques Julius to act in the position of chief whip in the interim. 

A senior MP said that some MPs were “furious” with Maimane after his comments that he believed the DA was no longer the vehicle to take forward his vision for an inclusive SA. The MP said the caucus planned to boot him from his position as parliamentary leader before he announced his resignation.

“He cannot say such a thing about the party and expect to continue in his role in parliament. That’s madness,” the MP said. 

Caucus chair Annelie Lotriet will be interim DA parliamentary leader until a caucus election takes place. The caucus will next week elect a new chief whip and parliamentary leader.

Steenhuisen has already accepted a nomination to stand for the parliamentary caucus leadership. 

The DA’s federal executive met on Thursday to discuss the way forward after Maimane’s and Trollip’s resignations.

This has created a constitutional conundrum, as the federal chair ordinarily acts as leader, but given Trollip’s resignation the DA remains leaderless. The party’s constitution is silent as to what happens when both positions are vacant.

Zille said the federal executive decided that a federal council, the party’s highest decision-making body between congresses, would be convened as soon as possible to elect an interim leader. 

The decision to hold the federal council meeting as soon as possible was taken after an opinion compiled by the party’s federal legal commission was discussed by the DA’s federal executive on Thursday. Zille said the federal council will now elect the interim leader and interim federal chair.

The DA’s federal council last weekend decided to go to an early congress, in line with a recommendation by a review panel appointed in the wake of the 2019 general elections in which the DA lost support for the first time.

The federal executive has now given more details, saying the federal congress will be convened as soon as practicably possible, with a provisional target of April 2020. Zille said the DA’s political and operational structures have already begun work on this.