University of Johannesburg chancellor Njabulo Ndebele Picture: MARTIN RHODES.
University of Johannesburg chancellor Njabulo Ndebele. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

SOUTH Africa faces "drift" with an "absent referee who is not in the field of play", University of Johannesburg chancellor Njabulo Ndebele told the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) national congress on Sunday.

Prof Ndebele, a guest speaker at the congress at which party leader Helen Zille was elected unopposed, said the symptoms of this lack of leadership and "scant regard for the rules" were a busy but underfunded public protector, continuing stress in parastatal companies, problems with basic education, and instability in the labour sector.

Prof Ndebele’s address to the gathering may help deflect criticism that the DA remains a party of whites, a charge repeated at the weekend by South African Communist Party chief Blade Nzimande, who called the DA a party of "white madams and baases".

Ms Zille said on Sunday she was optimistic about the 2014 elections. The federal congress, she said, had shown the DA forging ahead, while "fundamental flaws" in the African National Congress (ANC) would hasten its disintegration.

The DA has targeted 30% of the vote in 2014, continued control of the Western Cape, as well as one — possibly two — more provinces, newly re-elected federal chairman Wilmot James said.

Ms Zille refused to be drawn on time frames for realigning the opposition, saying such alignment would come only with the careful management of the "catalytic moments" that would characterise the ANC’s decline.

Newly elected deputy federal chairman Mmusi Maimane said he would work to grow the party in Gauteng, his home province.

A resolution on Sunday reaffirmed the party’s "liberal democratic values", and called for promotion of the party’s values in order to protect the institutional culture even as membership grows. Ms Zille said while the DA would not focus on membership numbers, unlike the ANC, the party could only implement its policies if it were elected. "We can only govern according to our principles and policies," and this was the message the DA would take "to every community," she said.