South Africa

DA Western Cape Leadership Race: Meet the contenders, Madikizela and Max

This weekend, the Western Cape congress of the Democratic Alliance will decide on an individual to take one of the party’s top spots: leadership of the party in the only province governed by the DA. Whoever wins will have a good chance of succeeding Helen Zille as Western Cape Premier in 2019. Wednesday brought the news that this is now a two-horse race, with the third contender ruled ineligible due to a technicality. By REBECCA DAVIS.

There’s not much love lost between Bonginkosi Madikizela and Lennit Max. The two are going head to head in a bid to become the DA’s Western Cape leader, and the past few weeks have seen public mudslinging on both sides.

Madikizela, the current Western Cape MEC for Human Settlements, accused former Western Cape police commissioner Max of presenting himself “as a saviour” after Max took to Facebook to say that he could address the problem of waning DA support in the Western Cape.

Max retorted: “I am a person unlike [Madikizela], who first consulted and listened to the structures before I accepted my nomination.”

That sums up the character of the leadership race: with Max presenting himself as a charismatic man of the people taking on a DA establishment favourite in the form of Madikizela. Madikizela has been acting as provincial leader since Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille resigned from the post in January.

Until Tuesday, the provincial leadership battle was a three-horse race, with Max and Madikizela joined by late contender Anda Ntsodo, an ally of De Lille who serves on the mayoral committee. Ntsodo was presented as a “middle ground” candidate expected to split the vote.

After a last-minute complaint by Madikizela about the timing of Ntsodo’s nomination, however, Ntsodo is now out of the race. The issue arose from the fact that Ntsodo withdrew his nomination and then changed his mind after the nomination cut-off date.

Speaking to Daily Maverick on Wednesday, Ntsodo, sounding dejected, explained: “Yesterday I was informed that my nomination was invalid… The incumbent provincial leader who is running for the same position raised [the nomination timing issue] with the presiding officer after my name was publicised. I am now eliminated from the race.”

Ntsodo added: “It is frustrating because I did put some resources into it and the campaigning was good, the support was there.” He said he would “definitely” challenge for the leadership position in future.

That leaves Madikizela and Max as the only two contenders for the top spot on Saturday, with Madikizela seeming to be in pole position as the two go into the congress.

Madikizela is well liked within the party, but his term as acting leader has not been scandal-free. The stain on his record so far has been the suggestion of impropriety over a birthday party for the politician held in March. On that occasion Madikizela admitted that a building contractor friend – who does business with the provincial government – had bought him a cake worth about R3,000. Madikizela maintained that it was a surprise party over which he thus had no control, but rivals leapt on it as potential evidence of corruption and conflict of interests. The Public Protector is still investigating the case.

Madikizela shrugs off the notion that the incident may have an impact on Saturday’s outcome, however. “DA voters and supports can see that for what it was: a smear campaign,” he told Daily Maverick. “I have explained it several times. There is no way of knowing a surprise birthday party could be such big news.”

Unsurprisingly, his opponent Max disagrees. “It can’t be overblown,” Max told Daily Maverick. “We don’t know the whole story. I’m a lawyer myself and in terms of my own knowledge, you must have the full picture. We didn’t see anything yet. The Public Protector is busy investigating.”

The ANC in the Western Cape also continues to make heavy weather of the incident. On Wednesday, the party released a statement alleging: “Madikizela is Zille’s choice and gets special protection from her for his indiscretions.”

Madikizela does not deny that he has a warm relationship with Western Cape Premier Zille.

I have worked with Helen for more than 11 years,” he says. “Helen and I have enjoyed this relationship – I am one person who challenges her and I think that she values that. I’m not somebody who leaves a meeting and goes and talks behind her back. There’s a mutual understanding that if we disagree, we will talk it out.”

He sees the fact that he has served in an acting capacity in the position he is now contesting as a disadvantage rather than a plus. “People are able to point out the challenges you’ve had.”

Madikizela acknowledges that the DA in the Western Cape is currently fraught with internal conflicts – as exemplified by the suspension of De Lille and councillor JP Smith this week after a public spat.

It’s inevitable that we disagree. For us to deny that will be disingenuous,” he says. “We are the only party in South Africa that is bringing together people from different backgrounds, so we are bound to have disagreements. The best thing to do is to manage that internally and deal with it.”

If he succeeds in his leadership bid on Saturday, Madikizela says he will work to consolidate the DA’s support base in the Western Cape because “there is a sense on the ground that our loyal supporters are being taken for granted”. He aims to strengthen DA structures like the DA Women’s Network and its youth and student organisations, and to “take the battle to the opposition stronghold and grow in the ANC areas”.

Madikizela also says that a specific focus for him would be increasing DA support in farming communities. “There is a perception that we are [a party] more for farmers than farmworkers. I will be putting a team together to focus on that area.”

His opponent Lennit Max claims support from DA delegates spanning both urban and rural areas. This is the fourth time that Max has challenged for the provincial leadership, most recently losing to De Lille in 2015 by 69% of the vote. Why would this time be different?

There’s a different electorate now,” Max says, referring to the composition of the DA’s provincial congress. “A lot of new people have come in with liberal views who are not being told how to vote.”

Max says that his priority as provincial leader would be to increase the accessibility and visibility of the DA leadership.

The structures complain that they are being marginalised and treated like stepchildren,” he said. “They said to us as candidates: ‘We only see you people at the constituency level when you are here for votes’.”

Max believes his greatest selling point to the DA is himself. “I can attract voters with my background and personality,” he says.

That background has not been without controversy, however.

Max has a history of being accused of sexual harassment, and was reportedly given a “golden handshake” of R5-million from the police in 2003 after four women alleged sexual harassment and victimisation by him. Max has consistently denied the claims, saying they were made by underperforming female employees. “Making allegations of sexual harassment is the quickest and surest way to get rid of a man. A lot of innocent men have been a victim of this tactic. It is difficult these days to discipline a woman and it’s very easy to shout harassment,” he told the Mail & Guardian in 2003.

In 2010 he was again accused of sexual harassment by a former police clerk. On this occasion, tabloid Die Son published details of the allegations, including a description of his penis. Max subsequently tried to sue Die Son for defamation, hiring clinical sexologist Dr Marlene Wasserman to compile a report which, among other aspects, included a description of his penis which contradicted the account of the organ given by his accuser.

Asked by Daily Maverick about this history on Wednesday, Max flatly denied it. “I have never been accused of sexual harassment,” he said. “There was an allegation of an affair which was never even proven” – and the woman in question was “psychotic”, he claims.

Max puts his chances of success at this weekend’s election at 80%. Madikizela begs to differ. DM

Photo: Bonginkosi Madikizela and Lennit Max.

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