Cape Town - Two days after DA leadership candidate Mmusi Maimane publicly expressed his support for a referendum on the death penalty, he has backed down.
“I would stand up straight and say I don’t support a referendum on the death penalty. We shouldn’t have a referendum,” Maimane told Netwerk24 in an interview on Wednesday.
Perhaps he did not clearly articulate his position on the death penalty and gay marriage in a television debate with outgoing federal chair Wilmot James, said Maimane.
In actual fact, Maimane is very opposed to the death penalty, and supports gay marriage.
James said during the debate, broadcast on DStv's kykNET show Insig on Monday evening, that the DA's parliamentary leader did not understand the Constitution.
On Wednesday, Maimane clarified he meant to say he was in favour of South Africans getting an opportunity to say how they feel, and re-evaluate their opinions.
“People tend to assume when the Constitution provides for someone to have a referendum, the state has to implement the outcome.”
But that is not the case, said Maimane.
“A referendum is the polling of people. My view was that if people want to give an opinion, they should be allowed to make a referendum, but that is not how you govern the state.”
“I’ve come to understand that people assume when you say a referendum is on the table you are saying those rights are up for grabs. That is not what I am saying.”
He denied that he did not understand the Constitution.
“I disagree with that. I’ve upheld the Constitution. I spend my days in Parliament upholding the Constitution.”
During the debate, Rapport editor and Insig presenter Waldimar Pelser asked him how he reconciled his church's stance against gay marriage with gay rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Since then, Maimane's critics have said he was sitting with a moral dilemma he needed to explain.
“It is not a moral dilemma,” Maimane told Netwerk24.
“I have in my own church taken a stance on my support of gay marriages. I don’t go to church because I agree with everything the church says.
“I’ve been supportive of gay rights. Marriage is marriage, those things to me is not even a debate. I’ve married a gay couple. To me the church holds a particular view, my job is to help the church see my point of view equally so.”
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said Maimane understood the Constitution correctly and that a referendum was not binding.