Maimane’s cred­i­bil­ity on the line

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Frankly Let’s Talk

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.

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