In a first time ever, the opposition Democratic Alliance allowed its candidates vying to lead the party after Hellen Zille announced that she would not be seeking re-election, Mmusi Maimane and Wilmot James to appear to the public on a television channel in a debate about what they wished to bring to their leadership of the party. The debate was aired on the KykNet channel of DSTV Premium on Monday evening.
In a debate that was criticized by a number of people for being aired on a channel that was described by some as being for the elite, the debate centred on the party’s policies in the past and what they will be in the future. Both James and Maimane agreed that there were some policies that the party had aligned itself with that it should not have. An example of this was when the DA had supported Employment Equity Act Amendment Bill in Parliament, only to make an about turn and oppose it later. In the words of the current leader of the DA in parliament, Mmusi Maimane, the party had been flip flopping on a number of issues of policy and this had to be corrected. “We flip-flop on issues, we support the NDP [National Development Plan] then we don’t. We support redress, then we vote for bills that are racist fundamentally,” added the charismatic leader.
Wilmot James, who, until now has been serving as the party’s federal chairperson, also agreed with Maimane about the fact that the party should not have voted for the Employment Equity Act Amendment Bill. He also bemoaned that fact that the Democratic Alliance was becoming a little like the ruling African National Congress and that was not right in his view. “We are becoming an alternate ANC under the current leadership and I aim to set that right,” James said. He also urged his party to go back to its basic principles rather than supporting bills that are racist in nature.
The public opinion from the debate was generally that it was a good idea for leaders to be presenting themselves and their policies for the consumption of the public. Apart from the issue of the fact that the debate should have been shown in a channel that was more accessible to a lot of the voters, some members of the public felt that the difference in the two prospective leaders was that while James was adamant that specific race groups like the Coloured communities in the Western Cape had specific needs, his opposite, Maimane felt that all people in South Africa should be treated in the same way.