Get to know them: John Steenhuisen & Mbali Ntuli gunning for DA leadership


Who will be elected the next leader of the DA? Candidates Mbali Ntuli and John Steenhuisen are both confident they will win. Get to know the two gunning for the DA’s top position.

DA leader hopefuls John Steenhuisen and Mbali Ntuli. Picture: Xanderleigh Dookey/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG – As this Democratic Alliance (DA) conference delegates prepare for a weekend of elections and policy discussions, a contender for the party’s federal leader, John Steenhuisen said he is confident he will emerge victoriously.

The virtual conference which is necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic will see several leaders contesting for positions including Steenhuisen who is up against Kwa-Zulu Natal legislature Member Mbali Ntuli.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, Steenhuisen admitted that politics are in its nature unpredictable, but despite this, he is certain he has ticked all the boxes to garner favour from most of the voting delegates.

“I think I’ve got a good chance. I have done the work. I had 35 in-person and virtual meetings around the country. I have set out my vision. I have been careful not to go on the attack against my colleague in the race and I have set out a clear and compelling vision for the party going forward and I think it’s going to resonate with the delegates around the country.”

Steenhuisen joined politics in his 20s and was the youngest member of the Durban city council when he was only 22 years old.

However, should he not achieve this, he says the next party leader has a cheerleader in him because the cause is bigger than a single individual.

“So here is the thing, no matter what happens this weekend, on the 3rd of November, I am going to get out of bed and my feet are gonna hit the floor and I am gonna do what I have done for the last 20 odd years to make my party better and try and build a better more inclusive South Africa”.

Steenhuisen was appointed interim leader of the party last year after Mmusi Maimane’s resignation from the party after the DA suffered major losses during the national elections.

Having served under different leaders, including the founding federal leader of the organisation Tony Leon, he told Eyewitness News that he has learnt a lot about the party’s weaknesses and strengths.

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen at Parliament for the State of the Nation Address on 13 February 2020. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN

Speaking about the weaknesses in the party, he flagged what he described as internal and external influences.
At the top of this list, is what he explained has been the DA’s preoccupation with criticizing the ANC without providing any workable alternatives.

Referring to some of the proposals and plans announced by the party amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said this is the way to go, instead of pointing at how deep the holes are.

“The DA has been far too focused on critiquing the ANC. Of course, you have a job to hold the ANC to account, but I think what we have done in the past is we have been good at criticizing without putting on the table workable alternatives and I think that is what the coronavirus pandemic has given us an opportunity to do. That we are capable of coming up with our own plans, our own policies, our own alternatives”.


However, this is not the only issue that stalks the party, as Steenhuisen went into other weaknesses which he identified in his 22 years in the DA leadership.

Policy incoherence that usually spills over into the public discourse, with different leaders attacking one another over varying views was also at the top of his mind.

“When people look at the party that is fighting itself and fighting each other, I think they say these people are so busy fighting each other, when are they going to have time to fight for me?”

The issue Steenhuisen points to were behind the resignations of former Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba last year, who complained that the party was not putting the poorest residents of the city first and that his own colleagues in the council were working against him.

Former leader Mmusi Maimane also raised similar issues, pointing to a disjuncture between the organisation he joined and what he said was a new DA, with a different set of values.

“When we start talking to ourselves and not talking to voters, they find other people to talk to and I think that is married with ideological incoherence and the fact that we have not been as solution-oriented as we should have been.”

He added that the party made an error in trying to be everything to everyone, and ultimately ended up not being anything to a single person in the country.

The DA’s support base declined from 22.2% to 20.7% during last year’s national elections.

These realities however, appear to have fired up Steenhuisen, even more, to rise to the occasion of standing in contestation for the party’s leadership.

When detailing his vision for the party to Eyewitness News, he said he sees himself as the “core” of the country’s majority by 2024 when South Africans will be heading to the polls to appoint the 7th administration.

Pressure is mounting for the party to close ranks and rejuvenate its public image following the fallouts witnessed in past months, and Steenhuisen’s forward-looking approach could be credited to this.

He views the ANC’s continued decline at the polls as an opportunity for the DA to take up space where the governing party fails to do so.

“I think you do that by decisive leadership. leadership that brings all the talents in the party together towards achieving a common objective. And then able to articulate a vision that is coherent and which has resonance with the people across the country and make sure we have an offering that speaks to every South African – not the offering that tries to be everything to everybody”.

The DA elective conference will take place from Saturday to Sunday.


Mbali Ntuli is the former DA youth leader. She threw her name in the bag to lead the party in 2019 saying the party is in a deep crisis.

Ntuli has been publicly vocal about the issues the DA faces.

In a letter addressed to the DA’s public representatives and seen by Eyewitness News last year, Ntuli announced her intention to contest the position of federal leader.

In the letter to the DA’s public representatives, she described the party as being in a deep crisis and permanent state of damage control.

Ntuli said the DA had suffered a series of losses and there appeared to be no hope in sight that things would get any better soon. She said she decided to stand for leadership because she was unhappy that the DA had lost half a million votes in the last elections, and lost activists and donors amongst other issues.

Mbali Ntuli of the Democratic Alliance. Picture: Xanderleigh Dookey/EWN.


“I have wanted to be in politics my entire life. I genuinely believe it is my calling. When I began my race for leader, I was very clear that bringing fairness back to the party and leading in a new way would be at the center of my offer to delegates and to the party. I want to assure you that I will put an end to the culture of insiders and outsiders.” The DA’s leader hopeful said.

She said she believes in fairness.

Ntuli told Eyewitness News that she was looking forward to the DA’s elective congress.

“I am excited. Obviously, we feel that our numbers are strong but it’s still really left up to the day and people tend to change their minds on the day all the time. But certainly going into it at the moment, we are very excited about how we are looking.”

At the same time, she has appealed to South Africans to call for more accountability in politicians.

“We in the political realm need the pressure from you to keep us sharp and to keep our democracy alive. So please take the time to interrogate your politicians and leaders to make sure by the time we get to next year’s election, we really have put everyone through a most stringent obstacle of trying to prove why they should lead.”

Ntuli expressed optimism ahead of the congress, saying she has worked hard to reach many of the party’s delegates and said the results of the congress would show that.

· Age: 32

· Hometown: Durban – KZN

· Political Life: 2008 graduate of the DA Young Leaders’ Programme.

Elected as Federal Chairperson of the DA Youth in 2010.

Elected as a councillor in eThekwini municipality in 2011.

Elected DA Federal Youth Leader in 2013.

Elected to the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature in 2014.

· Vision: “Working towards a kind, free and society that is inclusive”

· View on leadership: “Leadership is about growing other leaders, allowing people to be themselves and to also allow those with different views an equal chance.

· Past Scandals:
In 2014, Zille called Ntuli a “princess” and a “prima donna”, for “repeated instances” of behaviour that Zille regarded as unprofessional
. · Hobbies: Reading, playing chess, hanging out with her daughter and friends,

· Favourite City in SA: Durban

(Edited by Refilwe Pitjeng)

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