Johannesburg – Former DA strategist Ryan Coetzee left because he felt that party leader Helen Zille paid lip service to his strategies to transform the party and bring black leaders on board.
According to six DA sources, Coetzee believed his strategies yielded very little results because the leadership responded inadequately to internal surveys which revealed that the majority of black voters felt the DA did not represent their interests and could even bring back apartheid.
They said Coetzee felt sidelined by the Western Cape premier and her allies in the months leading to his departure for the UK last month, where he works for the Liberal Democrats party under British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The strategist also allegedly took offence at Zille’s remarks in March that Eastern Cape pupils who had flocked to the Western Cape for better education were refugees, they added. Zille and Coetzee both denied these claims on Monday.
The sources included national and regional leaders, including three MPs, who regularly interacted with Coetzee. Most of them spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals and because they did not want to contravene party communication rules.
The sources said Coetzee, who was for years seen as close to Zille, believed that the leadership had failed to heed advice to do something drastic to change the DA’s complexion and make black people feel at home in the party.
The sources’ assertions came six months after The Sunday Independent reported that a fired DA councillor in the Joburg metro, Thoko Mtubu, had accused the party of using black leaders only for votes. But the Gauteng DA at the time insisted she had been fired for misconduct.
Sources said Coetzee also believed the party’s lack of commitment to the advancement of black people undermined his effective strategies to increase its share of the vote from 16.6 percent in 2009 to 30 percent during the 2014 general election.
“According to the surveys, people did not care about how clever and technical we were. They wanted to know whether you can represent us, are you one of us, can we trust you, do you have our interests at heart.
“Ryan believed the leadership did not respond to these concerns and realised his strategy was not yielding results,” said a DA MP.
A national DA leader said Coetzee felt that Zille’s refugee remarks made his job difficult.
“He was one of the first people to say on twitter, when Helen insulted black people, that he did not believe it was the right thing to say and that she should consider withdrawing it because it was an attack on the market we needed to attract,” the DA leader said.
Zille on Monday confirmed that the party had commissioned various surveys, but denied that their results or the party’s response triggered Coetzee’s departure.
She maintained that he had left for greener pastures, adding that their relationship remained as good as ever.
“There is no such a thing. That is a figment of somebody’s imagination, literally I can assure you there is absolutely no truth in it. None whatsoever. Whoever is saying that has got their own agenda,” said Zille.
“We do surveys from time to time. Of course I am aware of the surveys, but the opinions are very diverse.
“What I can tell you is that people are losing faith in the ANC, and that is what you should focus on.”
Coetzee dismissed as nonsense assertions that he ditched the DA because of Zille’s alleged lack of committed to the advancement of black leaders.
He said he had left for greener pastures and remained an “enthusiastic and loyal” DA member.
“These so-called allegations are utter, unadulterated nonsense. Helen Zille has led the DA’s growth agenda from the front from day one and has never relented in her efforts to grow the party. It is frankly bizarre to suggest anything to the contrary.
“I was never sidelined by the leadership of the DA, who were and remain among my closest friends in politics. Moreover, as I said above, Helen Zille is completely committed to the DA’s growth and success and always took our research very, very seriously,” Coetzee said.
DA MP Ian Ollis said he believed Coetzee left for greener pastures because he could not have left for any other reason “when we are doing what he suggested”.