ANALYSIS | Leadership and race: DA review panel a devastating blow for Mmusi Maimane

2019-10-23 07:32
DA leader Mmusi Maimane. (Gallo Images)

DA leader Mmusi Maimane. (Gallo Images)

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"It is our carefully considered view that the single most important factor in shaping the DA's current circumstances is a failure of effective leadership." – a review of the Democratic Alliance final report by Ryan Coetzee, Tony Leon and Michiel le Roux.

The 30-page report detailing the crisis the Democratic Alliance (DA), currently South Africa's main opposition party, finds itself in should be the death knell for the leadership of Mmusi Maimane, at the helm of the party since May 2015.

It reveals a party crippled by indecision, uncertain about race and policy and unclear about how to address electoral decline. And it places his leadership at the centre of the party's distress.

Maimane appointed the review panel in the wake of the party's disastrous results in the general election in May this year, where it shed almost half a million votes in a low turnout election, losing support for the first time in 25 years.

READ | 'The clock is close to midnight for Mmusi': DA insiders panic over Maimane's possible resignation

The review panel consisted of Ryan Coetzee, the party's former chief strategist, Tony Leon, a former leader, and Michiel le Roux, one of the founders of Capitec and presumably a major funder of the organisation.

The report, seemingly authored by Coetzee, analyses the party from top to bottom, with panelists interviewing elected officials and party bureaucrats and considering numerous written submissions from concerned members.

The document's most significant recommendation is that Maimane, the chairperson of the federal council and the party's chief executive officer step down. It notes that James Selfe (former chairperson) and Paul Boughey (CEO) have already done so and urges the party to convene an early leadership congress to elect new leaders, which the federal council has already agreed to.

On Tuesday rumours were swirling that Maimane is preparing to step down, and while hard facts about his intentions were hard to come by, the main reasons for the DA's malfunctioning are laid squarely at his door.

Party's woes the result of poor leadership

The panel interviewed and received information from a cross-section of party officials and public representatives and, concerning for Maimane's future tenure, is that "some or all of these views were expressed by almost every person or delegation". This despite the report saying he is talented and committed to the cause.

Maimane, the panel found, is indecisive, inconsistent and "conflict adverse". It's led to a lack of clarity about vision and mission, confusion about the party's position on key issues, the erosion of unity of purpose, deep divisions in the national caucus, a breakdown in trust between the leader and key institutions, the lack of a policy platform and a "general erosion of discipline" in the party.

More specifically, the panel found that certain structures in the party – the national management committee, the federal executive – have become ineffective and unwieldy, failing to own decisions and dysfunctional.

And it's become like that because of Maimane's unwillingness to lead.

OPINION | Ralph Mathekga: Zille's election could be Maimane's lifeline... for now

Beyond the panel's analysis of poor leadership, the other seemingly intractable problem for the DA is its philosophy about the role and position of race in the party and in policy.

Because of the drift in leadership there has been almost no policy development, which means the DA has been unable to articulate its positioning on complicated matters of race and redress. Because it has seemingly unmoored itself from its traditional positions on race, but without unpacking what it believes, it has lurched from one race debacle to another.

Race and redress: a proposed solution

The panel found there is division in the party on the matter, and that besides a "general incoherence" there is an "insensitivity" on the part of some public representatives about some South Africans' past and unease on how the party reacts to public racial incidents.

It puts forward an argument which, at its centre, revolves around the DA's commitment to non-racialism, its rejection of racial nationalism, a belief that race should not be a proxy for disadvantage and that DA members are individuals in their own right, and not representatives "or facsimiles" of groups.

Ever since the 2014 "plane crash" (as Helen Zille described it) when the Lindiwe Mazibuko-led DA parliamentary caucus supported amendments to black economic empowerment and employment equity bills, the party has been flailing about, with internal confusion regularly spilling into the public domain.

"Opportunity policies and redress policies can and should both be pursued, provided they are targeted at individuals, not groups," the report states.

It acknowledges that "many South Africans remain disadvantaged as a consequence of past discrimination" and that redress should be part of plans to rebalance society.

The DA, Coetzee, Leon and Le Roux say, must take a position on the matter: "We recommend… that the party targets its redress policies at people who currently suffer disadvantage as a consequence of past discrimination and does not use race as a proxy for disadvantage."

The panel's approach to the race question is also evident in its analysis of the vexing issue of representivity and diversity. Again it says that the party tried hard in the past to balance adherence to its central philosophy of non-racialism with the need for more diversity.

"Representivity is the idea that people from a particular demographic group can and should represent others from the same group. This idea is profoundly at odds with the DA's philosophy in that it is premised on the idea that people are not individuals but rather iterations of a larger entity. It should have no place in the DA," the report declares.

The election was a referendum on Maimane's DA and the result was emphatic. The review panel report is a searing indictment of his leadership, and it is hard to see him retaining credibility should he decide to stay on.

Added to that is the panel's unambiguous recommendations on race and redress: race shouldn't be a proxy, identity politics is anathema and redress should be targeted at individuals. It's clearly not what Maimane believes, and he's made it clear from day one that his race was central to his being.

The end of the road for Maimane as leader of the DA, almost a decade after he joined the party, surely is imminent.

Read more on:    da  |  tony leon  |  ryan coetzee  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  michiel le roux
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