First Zille, now De Lille: Maimane's failed deals shows weak leadership

2018-10-31 10:45
DA leader Mmusi Maimane (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

DA leader Mmusi Maimane (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane's leadership qualities were put to the test by two deals he struck with prominent party leaders, Western Cape premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. The deals have exposed him as a weak leader.

On 13 June 2017, Maimane and Zille called a press conference to announce what was reported as a "deal" to end their differences. The differences were about Zille's widely condemned "colonial tweets". Maimane said Zille's tweets and her subsequent explanation to justify them had damaged the DA's efforts to unite all races. He was also "personally angered" by the tweets.

For her part, Zille apologised unreservedly for the tweets and for undermining Maimane's leadership. She also recognised the tweets were insensitive to victims of colonialism. Since then, Zille has conducted interviews and published more tweets about colonialism. She has made herself some kind of an expert on the subject – except that no one is interested in this expertise. Maybe she will write a follow-up memoir when she retires from government, entitled Not Only Negative.

Zille is always watching out for people on social media who say something positive about Singapore or apartheid for her to jump in and ask: "Where is the outrage?" To the credit of many South Africans, they have since accepted that Zille is Zille and they ridicule her and often condescendingly refer to her as "gogo" or some other name when she starts on her "Singapore lessons" or asks, as she often does: "Where is the outrage?"

It appears there was nothing unreserved about her apology. There is a sense that she felt unfairly treated and that Maimane succumbed to the outrage. She was told to shut up when she was not done developing her Not Only Negative thesis. And the fact that her apology was made in a conference jointly addressed by her and her leader, in which she undertook to restore her respect for him, doesn't matter anymore. Not Only Negative is Zille's new slogan to basically restate her views.

It doesn't help that our still-learning public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane made some problematic finding about Zille's comments as hate speech. They are not hate speech. They are prejudice which comes out in the open from time to time.

This could be the reason South Africans, including Zille's Twitter followers, have correctly decided to stop obsessing about the matter because they correctly see it as Zille is Zille. Maybe Mkhwebane should appreciate that. Imagine if you are still trying to make sense of Donald Trump's speeches. Trump is, well, Trump!

Unfortunately, however, Maimane cannot adopt the Zille is Zille approach. He had pulled a big leadership coup by getting Zille to agree to shut up, apologise and publicly declare her respect for his leadership. But it was a brief convenience. Instead, she became louder and louder. The more she expressed her opinion in public, the weaker and weaker Maimane became in the eyes of the public and the potential voters he seeks to win over.

On 5 August 2018, Maimane struck another deal with De Lille, in terms of which she would resign and the DA would not pursue charges against her. The deal, which was announced at a joint press conference, has proven disastrous because it's not entirely the clean break Maimane thought it would be – or perhaps rushed to announce without thorough processing. Now, all the shenanigans in the City of Cape Town points to Maimane's failure to hold the party together.

He has become an easy target for criticisms. Former councillors openly suggest that he is a front for "his masters". From colonial tweets that won't go away to master-servant allegations – it gets worse for Maimane.

He struck a deal with De Lille when clearly her adversaries in the DA were not done with her. They are keen on haunting her whether she is within or outside the DA. She is also not done with them either, threatening to sue them in their individual capacities. In the meantime, she is accumulating political capital as a victim of alleged DA racism. It's not clear yet what she will do with that capital.  

It does not help that the deal prevented De Lille from securing what many South Africans would have liked to watch: a live public inquiry on the allegations against her. Instead, the DA was found to have violated its own constitution, a blow for a party that has at the heart of its political strategy efforts to expose the ANC for failing to adhere to constitutional prescripts.

Dark clouds could gather yet again after the De Lille storm because the two most-feared councillors, Ian Nelson and JP Smith, who are a thorn in her side, were not chosen to replace her. It won't be easy for Dan Plato, the preferred candidate announced by Maimane.

When Table Mountain disappears under heavy dark clouds in the next few months, Maimane's leadership will once again be questioned.

- Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
Read more on:    da  |  helen zille  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  patricia de lille

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