John Steenhuisen: Biography and Educational Qualifications of the Democratic Alliance Politician

The role of the opposition in any democracy is to keep the government of the day on its toes, which is exactly what John Steenhuisen is doing in South Africa. A prominent member of the Democratic Alliance, Steenhuisen has grown through the ranks to become the leader of a party that is now the largest opposition in SA. In this role, he has been most vocal in areas where he perceives that the present Cyril Ramaphosa-led government is underperforming.

He has also not spared other notable figures in South African politics, including the former president, Jacob Zuma, and the Economic Freedom Fighters leader, Julius Malema. Steenhuisen is set to lead the DA during the 2024 elections, and this is a powerful testament to a political career that has defied expectations. The DA leader has been embroiled in several scandals, including a never-ending debate about his educational qualifications, but he has survived each of them and continues thriving.

Profile Summary of John Steenhuisen 

  • Name: John Henry Steenhuisen
  • Date of birth: 25th March 1976
  • Age: 45 Years Old
  • Place of birth: Durban, South Africa
  • Political affiliation: Democratic Alliance
  • Education: Northwood Boys School, University of South Africa
  • Marital Status: Married
  • Spouse: Terry Steenhuisen (2014 – date), Julie Steenhuisen (2000 to 2010 – divorced)
  • Children: Three

John Steenhuisen Hails from Durban and Joined Politics as a Little Boy

Details about John Steenhuisen’s family background and early years are hard to come by, but the DA leader has revealed that his father is a psychologist. On numerous occasions, he has also shared that his journey into politics and joining the Democratic Alliance (formerly Democratic Party) took place at a very young age. As a young boy growing up in a community in Durban, John Steenhuisen had a passion for making his society better. He joined nonprofit organizations such as Rotoract but found that their efforts were often hampered by the authorities. He thus decided to get in a position where he could influence the actions of the decision-makers.

At the age of 19, John Steenhuisen joined the DA fueled by their vision of making lives better for all South Africans. Starting as an activist for the party, the young man often used bicycles to deliver the party’s election pamphlets from door to door. This helped the party gain more seats, and by 1999, a then-22-year-old John Steenhuisen decided to contest for a seat in the Durban City Council. He won the election as the councilor for Durban North and made history as the youngest municipal councilor at that time.

He has Variously Served as MP in the National Assembly and the KwaZulu Natal Legislature

John Steenhuisen spent about eight years as a city councilor, during which he made an impact in several areas, including fixing the numerous porthole-riddled roads. A true rising star, he was selected to serve on the city’s executive committee, and in his party, he was appointed a caucus leader. After several years of impactful service as a councilor, Steenhuisen decided to up the ante by seeking election to the KwaZulu Natal regional legislature in 2009. He succeeded, and the next two years saw him excel once more, exposing corruption in high places of government.

The year 2010 would come with a scandal that would ordinarily end any politician’s career, but John Steenhuisen managed to hang in there. He disappointed those who were already writing his political obituary as he went on to retain his seat and get elected into the National Assembly in 2011. He retains his post to date and has made a name for himself with his take-no-prisoners style of debating, which has helped widen his party’s influence in parliament and keep the ruling ANC on their toes.

Serving variously on the Rules Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament, associates see John Steenhuisen as an incredibly intelligent person who couldn’t have come this far if not for his natural love for the rough and tumble of politics.

Political Offices Held by John Steenhuisen

  • Member of Durban City Council – 1999 to 2008
  • Member of KwaZulu Natal Provincial Legislature – 2009 to 2011
  • Member of National Assembly of South Africa – 2011 to date
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John Steenhuisen is Presently the Leader of the Democratic Alliance, The Largest Opposition Party in South Africa

While making his way from the regional to national parliaments, John Steenhuisen maintained an active presence in his political party. He served as the DA caucus leader in whatever parliament that he found himself. By 2014, he was appointed chief whip of the DA in the national parliament. He held this position for five years before taking over as the party’s parliamentary leader. This stint as DA parliamentary leader only lasted for a short period before John Steenhuisen was elected the party’s overall interim leader in November 2019. One year down the line, he was elected party leader permanently.

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This election marked a culmination of all the efforts Steenhuisen had put into the Democratic Alliance since his boyhood. He gave a very impassioned acceptance speech, in which he restated the party’s vision of truly returning power to the people. Steenhuisen’s biggest test would come during the 2024 general elections, but many doubt if his party would be able to dislodge the ANC. South Africa remains a society where issues such as race and class are still very divisive, and Steenhuisen’s party has a reputation as a white middle-class party, something that won’t attract black voters anytime soon.

Positions John Steenhuisen has occupied in the Democratic Alliance

  • DA caucus leader in eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality Council – 2006 to 2009
  • DA caucus leader in KwaZulu Natal legislature – 2009 to 2009
  • KwaZulu Natal provincial leader – 2009 to October 2010
  • Chief whip of the DA (official opposition) in National Assembly- May 2014 – October 2019
  • DA parliamentary leader – 2019 to 2019
  • Interim leader of the DA – November 2019 to November 2020
  • Leader of the Democratic Alliance – November 2020 to date

The Democratic Alliance Party Leader has Long Faced Scrutiny over his Educational Qualifications

John Steenhuisen has survived several scandals in the course of his career, but one that he cannot seem to shake is the controversy over the fact that he does not have a university degree. The DA leader completed his secondary school education and matriculated from Northwood Boys High School in 1993. He then enrolled at the University of South Africa to study politics and law in 1994. According to Steenhuisen, he studied at UNISA for three years, during which he received several certificates of merit with distinctions in politics 1, 2, 3, and international politics. However, he never got his degree as he dropped out due to financial difficulties.

Upon dropping out, John Steenhuisen largely focused on his political career. He later carved out time to undertake several courses at the London School of Economics, which spans African economic development, leadership, municipal finance, and legislative drafting. According to him, much of the theories he learned in university have not come in handy in his political career. Rather, what has been helpful is his focused education on key topics and on-the-job training. The above explanations are quite sound, but the fact remains that John Steenhuisen has no university degree but just a mere matriculation certificate, and this has brought him sharp criticisms over the years.

The issue first reared its head up around 2009 -2010 while he was in the KwaZulu Natal regional legislature. It once more grabbed headlines again in 2020 when he indicated his willingness to run for DA leader, with many people pointing out that Steenhuisen is a beneficiary of white privilege. According to them, Steenhuisen would not have come this far without a university degree if he was black. This school of thought was also peeved that he defeated black people, who had higher educational qualifications, during the election. John Steenhuisen has refused to bow to these arguments. According to him, he has been quite truthful about his educational background and has never lied about what certificates he has.

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