Cachalia keen to restructure Gauteng DA if elected
ALL EYES might be on the ANC elective conference next month, but there’s another political battle playing out a fortnight ahead of it.
On the weekend of November 18/19, the DA in Gauteng will be electing its new chairperson, leader and deputy chair; three key positions in the run-up to the increasingly contestable 2019 general elections.
The incumbent provincial leader John Moodey will be attempting to win his fourth term, but Ghaleb Cachalia is determined to take him on – and win.
Cachalia, the scion of the wellknown Struggle family, shocked many when he joined the DA 18 months ago, just ahead of the 2015 municipal elections. He stood as the party’s mayoral candidate in Ekurhuleni, dropping the ANC majority from 62% of the vote to 48%, effecting a bigger swing to the DA – performing better, say some DA members – than the mayoral campaigns in Johannesburg and Tshwane, on a fraction of the budget the others had. Cachalia is unabashed. “I’m seen as the new boy at the school who suddenly wants to become head boy, but I’m not a career politician. This year I’ll be 61, I mothballed my business interests because I want to make a difference.
“You know (South Africa) had a great leader in (Nelson) Mandela and then we went to sleep, only to wake up to a nightmare. That’s why I decided to join the coalition of the willing to make a difference.”
His supporters, however, believe the biggest difference that Cachalia can make is to actually revive a party that has not only flatlined, but actually dipped in Gauteng in recent elections. “Quite frankly,” said one of Cachalia’s backers who is not authorised to speak to the media, “Moodey shows worrying trends of racial politics and growing illiberalism. What we need to win in 2019 is a completely different approach, one that isn’t going to happen with Moodey still at the helm.”
Cachalia won’t speak about the merits or otherwise of the current political leader in Gauteng – to do so would be inappropriate and against party policy, he says – choosing instead to speak about what his leadership will offer if he is elected.
“I stand for liberalism with a small ‘l’. I’m not prepared to be ANC-lite, but rather, if elected, take on the contentious issues like race, BEE and land reform.
“I’m not worried about the optics of the party, we have to get the fundamentals right. If you get hung up on fashioning a colour palette, you miss the kernel of the issue; land reform is about making the soil productive, BEE is about broadening the economy, not just creating elites.”
A key rafter of his platform is to change the structure of the party in Gauteng.
“We have to delegate authority, not tasks. We have to ensure the ward councillors, the activists at grass roots are empowered to fashion policy because they are the ones who are closest to the voters.”
His supporters believe it is this that differentiates him from Moodey.
“Moodey is a career politician, he’s a street fighter, big on slogans and big on relationships.
“Ghaleb is coming in with none of that baggage, only a vision and a determination to make change happen. He’s a workaholic who melds the best of his activist background with a thorough corporate background.
“Too many of the current leaders and elected officials are careerists, unwilling to rock the boat for fear of losing their perks of office. That’s political suicide,” said one of his supporters.
What concerns Cachalia is the inertness of prospective DA candidates who are unable to envisage a different policy to that of the ANC.
“The ANC’s policies aren’t actually that bad, they’re just not being implemented properly,” he says. “When you put this to prospective candidates, they agree with you, which is terrifying because it speaks to the shallowness of the ‘blue water’ that should be the ideological divide between the ANC and the DA. “We’re not socialists, we’re fundamentally liberals who believe in the free market and individual choice, we have to grasp the nettle and discuss thorny issues like race, BEE and land. There are people in the party who are scared that we will lose votes if we do this, but I believe if we do it properly and with DA values as our lodestar, we will win more support. “We can’t be fellow travellers any more, we have to do it properly, we have to lead properly.”
Cachalia grew up the son of activists in Vrededorp and Fordsburg in Johannesburg. His father, Yusuf, was secretary of the SA Indian Congress and played a key role in the Defiance Campaign, being joint secretary with Walter Sisulu. His mother, Amina, was a lifelong activist.
They sent him to Swaziland to be educated and from there to exile in Wales when his passport was confiscated. He studied at the University of London. After graduating, he received his passport again, returned home and promptly had it removed by the apartheid government. He studied law at Wits, but was involved in student politics to such an extent that he was detained and never completed his degree.
He joined his father in their clothing and manufacturing business, starting at the bottom and eventually running it. After the advent of democracy and the threat of huge competition from the Far East, he sold the business, retaining one retail outlet which he transferred to the long-serving staff.
He started a management consultancy, joined a venture capital firm as an executive director as well as holding a number of directorships, including Namdeb, diamond miner De Beers’ Namibian operation.
Cachalia is more than just a dark horse in the leadership race.
The recent Johannesburg regional elective conference delivered all 12 positions to candidates who have already backed his bid for the provincial leadership. Ekurhuleni held its regional conference last Saturday, with seven of the 10 positions – with the exception of the leadership and finance – going to Cachalia’s camp.
Tshwane still needs to be tested, as does the West Rand, while Midvaal is small but still significant.
Cachalia doesn’t want to read too much into the results.
“There’s fertile ground to be delivered and developed and 2019 looms large. I intend to give it my all. Gauteng is the primary battleground, which is why I have put my hat into the ring to stand as leader.
“The DA has a fighting chance of collaring a substantial number of the votes in the province, but to do so it needs a seamless machine that delivers, organises and inspires.
“Right now within the DA, we are determining how best to position ourselves for this battle.
“In a sense, we are conducting our own internal battle, but let’s be clear, this is not a battle of faction against faction. We are in this all together. If we fail, South Africa fails.”
Ghaleb Cachalia, dressed in black earlier this week in support of #BlackMonday, in his lounge in his house in Joburg’s northern suburbs.