By Annisa Essack
Nicole Graham, the DA eThekwini caucus leader has thrown her hat into the ring for the provincial leadership, squaring up to veteran DA MPL Francois Rodgers and fellow eThekwini councillor Emmanuel Mhlongo on March 27.
The position comes vacant as Zwakele Mncwango decided not to seek a third term as provincial leader.
Graham was one of the youngest people to be elected as a DA councillor in the eThekweni Municipality at age 21 and 7 years later, was one of the youngest to the on the reigns of the party’s leadership in the city.
A politics and law graduate who hails from the Bluff, Graham, announced her candidacy on Monday.
Insiders believe that with her current position as eThekweni leader, she has the edge in the three-horse race as she takes on the ANC in KwaZulu Natal’s largest metro.
Five hundred and eighty votes will secure her the position, and she comes up trumps as she already has the support of most of the KZN south and north districts, which contribute more than 45% of the delegate vote. DA insiders also say that Graham has the silent backing of DA Federal chairperson Helen Zille and party leader John Steenhuisen.
But in all races, there are the critics, who are of the opinion that she may be too young and too white, for a province whose majority of the voters are Black and many living in rural areas. This belief lies in the fact that Zwakele Mncwango, was able to grow the DA support base in the black community, particularly in the rural areas. An area where Graham may fall short.
Graham though disagrees and says her experience in local government will hold her in good stead and makes her ready to grab the reigns as the leader in the province.
“I have an immense wealth of knowledge in local governments and in fighting battles that matter. And in building teams and equipping teams, which I think are all things that could benefit the DA in the province,” she said.
If elected as leader, Graham says she plans to remain as a councillor in Durban as she feels her work in the city is not complete.
“At eThekwini we work in really difficult conditions. And I think I have shown in that space that I am not afraid to fight for the things that matter, I can build capable teams of people and I have the work ethic and the commitment to get things done. So, I do not consider it to be a finished job. I think there’s a lot more I want to do.”
However, Graham faces a challenge, especially after what was seen as a purge of senior black leaders like Mmusi Maimane, Patricia De Lille, and Herman Mashaba by the DA. The electorate, already distrustful of the party also perceives the DA as too white.
Graham though is quick to fend off these claims.
“We underestimate voters when we categorise Black voters as one thing, Indian voters as another thing and Coloured voters this thing, and so on. At the end of the day, voters want people who understand their issues, and who will fight for their issues, and I have seen over my tenure at eThekwini that my base or my support among people of all races has grown when we focus on the issues that matter to them when we focus on dirt and transport, and we focus on economic development. I don’t think you need to be of a particular race to fight for that or to fight for another race,” she said.
On how she will attract the rural vote, she says: “My plan is, is to have a good working relationship with the caucuses and constituencies around the province, and to make sure that they are as skilled and as competitive as possible. You know leadership is not about one person, and do not want to be the be-all and end-all. We have great councillors and great representation around the province. It’s about how we build that team that can appeal to everyone in different ways,” she said.