DA leader Mmusi Maimane put a lid on an attempt to reintroduce the debate on BEE, telling those pushing for racial classification to be scrapped from party policy to “shut up and get to work”.
Maimane’s allies in the party say that the leader “found his voice” this weekend when the federal council sat to mull over the party’s manifesto.
Maimane’s unexpectedly bold stance has also been seen as a signal to those discussing his removal after the elections that he will not go down without a fight.
City Press understands that some MPs, including Gwen Ngwenya – who recently resigned as policy head, saying the party doesn’t take policy seriously – as well as Ghaleb Cachalia and Mike Waters, were among those looking to reopen the debate on race.
Cachalia is alleged to have advanced the argument that the DA has a “history” of standing against race-based polices.
Last year the party’s fight over which position to take spilled over into the public arena. Ngwenya announced that the DA had opted to abandon racial classification in its policy on redress and was backed up by then MP Gavin Davis, as well as Waters and Cachalia.
Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga, among those who denied that the decision had been taken, is said to have added his voice on Friday, reiterating that black people had been disadvantaged and therefore the party’s policy should include race.
Others who played a part in shutting down the debate are believed to include senior leaders John Steenhuisen and Athol Trollip.
Maimane, often criticised for “not having enough backbone”, allegedly said it would not help party objectives to be embroiled in yet another divisive fight, particularly in the run-up to elections.
DA chief executive Paul Boughey is said to have told the gathering that the party was polling above the 22% figure, which the DA got in the 2014 general elections. He did not give the exact figure.
The so-called true liberals in the party, said to be gunning for Maimane, are banking on the party maintaining 22% or dipping below that in order for a strong case for his removal to be made.
The claims of this plan were also addressed by party members at federal council who said that the reintroduction of the BEE debate gave credibility to the claims, since this would lead to another bruising battle and more reputational damage.
Maimane also told the structure that the manifesto had been distributed some time ago to allow for inputs and that those with any objections had had ample time to raise them.
A member of the federal council told City Press that Maimane re-emphasised that the party had adopted a race-based policy in 2014 and that it had not changed.
“I have never heard Mmusi respond so brutally to people. Some even clapped after he said ‘shut up’. We couldn’t believe that he was actually proving to be in charge for the first time. I think everyone was stunned,” the member said.