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EXPLAINER: Who is John Moodey and why did he leave the DA?

So, there the country’s main opposition party was, merrily minding its own business and preparing to elect a new leader, when one of the main contenders for the position, DA leader John Moodey, up and resigned. On Wednesday morning, in a surprising turn of events, Moodey not only quit his campaign but resigned as a member from the party ENTIRELY. (Boy, bye. 🚶🏽)

The development appeared to come entirely out of the … er… blue. But as Moodey explained on Wednesday, it was a long time coming.

Sorry, who’s John Moodey? 

Until Wednesday morning, John Moodey was the DA’s leader in Gauteng. He was also one of three candidates in the running to lead the DA when the party votes internally for fresh leadership in October. He was running alongside interim leader John Steenhuisen and member of the Kwa-Zulu Natal provincial legislature, Mbali Ntuli. 

Moodey has spent over two decades in the DA and has an even longer history in South African politics, with a background in trade unionism. Moodey joined the DA’s predecessor, the Democratic Party, in 1998. He was 40 years old at the time. In his 22 years with the party, he has held several positions including branch chairman, deputy regional chairman, Gauteng provincial chairman and Gauteng provincial leader, a position he held for four terms. 

In the run-up to the DA’s October elections, and following the launch of his campaign (to become DA leader) in February, Moodey said he brings a lot of experience to the table. He wasn’t wrong. 

He also has loads of experience in government, having worked at the City of Johannesburg for many years. This is where he became a leader in the trade union movement and become involved in defending the rights of the City’s employees. 

So, why did he leave the DA? 

Two main reasons: 

1. He no longer feels at home with the DA and that it was not the party he joined 22 years ago.

2. The internal politics. Read: Helen Zille. 😒

(Watch Moodey’s resignation announcement here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAjkfa8oHnY)

Let’s unpack this.

The return of Helen Zille as chairperson of the party’s federal council last year was a serious game-changer for the DA. It precipitated the exit of several DA members, most notably former DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba – both of whom started their own organisations.

Moodey previously said he would work with Zille as long as she respected him and his position in the DA. But it would appear as though this hasn’t quite worked out, and Moodey revealed on Wednesday that he is facing internal disciplinary charges. Moodey said this was because he had publicly defended Maimane who had faced character assassination attempts in the media. 

Moodey believes there are other charges being pitted against him, allegedly for conspiring against senior DA leaders, although he has not seen a charge sheet.

In his public announcement on Wednesday, Moodey said the former DA members resigned before they were pushed out of the party or from their positions. He said, “This tactic is not foreign or unknown in the DA.” 

Moodey alleged that the charges against him and several others are being used to neutralise those who supported Maimane and former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip (who also resigned after the return of Zille). 🤨 He said he has been a victim of rumour-mongering and character assassination within the DA.

Refering to Zille’s tweets about race, Moodey said she was “tone-deaf, ignorant or both” and said he does not want to be complicit, while other members follow her blindly. 

What does this mean for the DA? 

Trouble. It means trouble. The DA’s share of the national vote dropped in the May 2019 general election. The party is struggling to grow its support, especially among the black, coloured and Indian voters. This is something Moodey hoped to change – he said he wanted to grow the DA’s support in all race groups, but the party is failing in this regard. 

In response to Moodey, the DA said his resignation was unfortunate and unnecessary and that the disciplinary action against him does not amount to a ‘witch-hunt’. Okay. 

But this undoubtedly leaves the blue party on VERY shaky ground. The party is still trying to find its stance on racial redress and losing a high profile leader of colour in this way is going to hurt it. Race remains central to the DA’s policy problems: should it be a party of non-racialism, which says race is a proxy for disadvantage? Or should it acknowledge race as being the main reasons for disadvantage? As Stephen Grootes wrote in the Daily Maverick

“If the DA cannot come to a proper resolution on the issue of whether race is a proxy for disadvantage, it may end up being hopelessly divided over it for a long period. This would make it impossible to define itself. It stands to lose members to other parties…” which we see happening already. 

But it isn’t just about race. Losing another high profile leader like this, especially one with so much experience in the party, makes the DA look like a place where people who disagree with the party’s stance will be hounded out. We don’t know if Moodey’s allegations are true, but one thing is sure: it’s not a good look for the official opposition.

If you’re a DA member who feels left in limbo because Moodey had your vote, worry not, we’ll be profiling the two remaining candidates: John Steenhuisen and Mbali Ntuli, so you can make an informed decision come October. You’re welcome :).