Maimane’s credibility on the line
Tabane is author of and host of Power Perspective on Power 98.7, Sundays to Thursdays, 9pm to noon
THE SAGA over Helen Zille’s disciplinary case within the DA is a big test for Mmusi Maimane’s leadership in the context of the repositioning of the DA as a political alternative in future national governance.
A lot of people are looking for an alternative political home, and how this saga is resolved will go a long way in answering the question of whether the DA can be a possible home for those fed up with the moral bankruptcy that has engulfed the ANC but not ready for the policy extremities of the EFF.
Maimane has so far been impressive as someone who can lead the creation of a happy ideological medium between the ANC and EFF. Many are however not yet over doubting whether he is a puppet or his own man. And whether or not he and the so-called black caucus in the DA are truly in charge, or are being masterminded by the old guard who hanker for the past.
I don’t think anybody assumed taking over and transforming what was essentially a white-formed and white-led party into a diverse party of the future was going to be a walk in the park.
When Mmusi was elected in 2014, I wrote him an open letter warning him he was going to have to be tough with whites in his party. I warned him that, following the Allister Sparks Verwoerdian slip, more was to come, and some racists were lurking in his party waiting to embarrass him. Sparks, in a moment of being senile (his explanation) at the DA’s elective conference, where Maimane had just been elected, said Verwoerd was a great politician. Sound familiar?
I couldn’t have predicted that a similar “Verwoerdian slip” would come from someone of Zille’s Struggle credentials. It was worse because it was accompanied by months of denial and justifications and then a fake apology at the end. But maybe we should not be surprised, given how she conducted herself over the controversy engulfing Dianne Kohler Barnard, who sought to praise the legacy of PW Botha.
Maimane is in bad company. It is clear from the manner in which the federal executive resolved this matter that there was not enough outrage against Zille’s utterances to translate into meaningful action against her.
The DA is caught between pleasing its new-found constituency in the black community and pleasing its traditional white base, which virtually worships Zille. It is clear they believe the black constituency can still be maintained by having Maimane lead, but the white constituency can’t be risked by firing Zille.
To merely strip Zille of participation in DA decision-making structures is meaningless if she remains premier of the Western Cape. Political parties exist to exercise state power, and only her removal as premier would send a strong enough message that she has lost her grip on the party leadership in favour of Maimane.
The fake apology shows a huge level of political prevarication by the entire DA but may well have been the only way out in treading the fine balance of the multiple constituencies the DA represents. This may well tell us that the election of Maimane was more like a “grudge purchase”, forced on the DA by the reality of a saturation of the white vote responsible for most of the party’s growth.
Expecting the DA to get rid of Zille would have been as unrealistic as expecting the ANC to recall Zuma abruptly. The way ANC strategists have convinced themselves that firing Zuma will rip the party apart is much the same as the way DA strategists feel they need to avoid a possible split led by Zille sympathisers.
It is clear there is more in store for Maimane, as the wounded faction of Zille supporters will go to the drawing board again, possibly to plot how to oust him or at least replace him with someone a lot more pliable.
His Saturday afternoon pronouncement that he and Zille don’t share a vision was telling, and had the potential of reading the riot act to those who doubt his leadership within the DA.
DA federal executive chair James Selfe’s position on Zille was devastating for Maimane’s standing and credibility within and without the party. He should not have allowed it. It begs the question of who is advising him and how they could have allowed this, resulting in irreparable reputation damage for Maimane.
It’s going to take an executive action that would eclipse this disaster to restore Maimane’s authority and credibility. He should have his eyes set on the Western Cape once he has proved that the patched-up arrangement where Zille has no say in DA affairs is not good for governance.
If her behaviour is anything to go by, Zille will soon slip and hand Maimane the ammunition to deal with her. He could do one up and take over as premier of the Western Cape to implement the DA’s mandate and get some practice ahead of a possible stint in the Union Buildings.
MAKING UP AT A COST: Premier of Cape Town Helen Zille and leader of the DA Mmusi Maimane.