Phalatse's speech was analytical but Steenhuisen emerged the better the better politician

This afternoon, the two candidates for federal leader of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen, the incumbent, and his challenger Mpho Phalatse delivered their final leadership contest speeches at the party's congress currently underway.

TimesLIVE contributor and analyst, Eusebius McKaiser, watched the two speeches closely and, drawing on his experiences as a past World Masters Debate Champion and adjudicator of competitive debating and public speaking shows, analysed their performances.

Steenhuisen, with his wealth of political experience compared to Phalatse's, chose to focus on a very positive framing of what the DA had already achieved, and what it can and will achieve next year, i.e driving the ANC below 50% share of the national vote.

He alluded to the importance of experience, in an apparent dig at his opponent, by referencing his membership of the party that goes back to 1997, quite apart from many positions he had occupied over the years, including ten years as a DA councilor.

He showed awareness of and implicitly conceded that the DA needs to communicate more effectively with voters. To that end, based on research showing what matters to voters currently, he listed many thematic areas that he would focus on as leader if he was reelected, including energy insecurity, crime, unemployment, cadre deployment, improving the quality of our bureaucracy, and devolving more power to provincial and local governments.

What was most striking for McKaiser, however, was the overall tone and energy of the speech. It was positive, forward-looking, solutions-focused, and aiming at party cohesion rather than divisive critique in the public sphere.

Phalatse's speech was, argues McKaiser, perhaps more substantive in its self-examination of what the party had done wrong. She spent some time, by way of example, detailing the very serious trust deficit that the DA faces. She regaled the congress with anecdotes of people she had met everywhere who wondered whether or not the DA could be trusted. In contrast to the polling data cited by Steenhuisen, she suggested that if elections were held tomorrow, the DA may well only get 16% share of the vote, even if the ANC's numbers also plummeted The implication is that nothing short of a very fresh and new offering to voters is needed to get them to vote for the ANC. It would be a mistake, she says, to only focus on the base of the party.

McKaiser argues that, to that extent, Phalatse's speech sounded more like political analysis than someone understanding the game of politics. It was insufficiently positive and perhaps too introspective, given that voting delegates need to feel fired up about and positive towards a candidate they are asked to back. While some segments of the party might agree with Phalatse's speech in its essence, it may be hard to avoid the conclusion that Steenhuisen is the better politician between them.

For the full analysis of their speeches, and to hear the speeches for yourself, click on the audio link to this latest edition of Eusebius on TimesLIVE.
1 Apr 2023 English South Africa News Commentary · Politics

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