Senior leaders in the DA have asked former party leader Tony Leon to explain the statement attributed to him saying One South Africa movement leader Mmusi Maimane was “an experiment gone wrong” for the party.
Leon, who led the DA from 2015 to 2019, caused a stir over the weekend after an interview on News24 during which he spoke about his new book titled Future Tense.
“Mmusi was an experiment gone wrong as Mmusi never committed to the party’s ideals before he joined it,” he told News24.
Following his statements, some senior DA figures have come to Maimane’s defence while others side with Leon.
An agitated Zwakele Mncwango, former DA leader in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, said he wanted to know the context in which Leon made the comment.
“If he meant the election of Mmusi or any black leader was an experiment, I would take it as an offence to all black leaders in the DA. It says we are not fit for purpose or to lead,” Mncwango said.
He also said Leon’s utterances undermined the DA’s processes of electing leaders and insulted the intelligence of all delegates to congresses.
“It is an offensive statement to us. It now looks like all leaders who have been given a chance to lead in the DA were an experiment. He must clarify. Does he mean all of us as black leaders?” he asked.
Western Cape leader Bongani Madikizela also called for Leon to explain himself.
“Tony Leon must explain what he means by an experiment gone wrong. Some of us are asking what that means,” Madikizela said.
Mike Moriarty, DA chief whip in the Gauteng legislature, tweeted his support for Mmaimane.
“When I voted for Mmusi I was not voting for an experiment.”
Erstwhile Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, who left the party before Maimane did, also said Leon did not represent non-racial South Africans.
“Tony Leon has gone too far this time. I know ... that he doesn’t represent majority of peace-loving, non-racial South Africans,” he said.
When it was pointed out to Leon that people were offended by his sentiments, which are reminiscent of an era when Sarah Baartman was paraded as a curiosity by colonialists, he said: “I am very sorry if people are offended, but frankly…”
Maimane has rejected Leon’s apology.
“Saying ‘I am sorry if you are offended’ is not an apology. Reducing my political efforts canvassing for support to just being an experiment is foul and exposes him. Nobody just shows up anywhere. I navigated the terrain and won the votes.”
In response to Leon’s statement, Maimane said he left the party because his attempts to transform the organisation failed.
“I wanted the people to really be that party that sits in the centre. That reason was rejected by the DA and as you’ve opened up now, it’s been the return to almost the fightback campaign and the consolidation of minorities, which is not a project that I’m willing to be engaged with, which is why I had to leave,” Maimane said.
He added that Leon’s characterisation of him was not only offensive but dehumanising.
“The project of dehumanising is certainly one that is historic. I was offended and found the comments offensive but somehow not surprising because this is something not unique in this instance. It is something that happens to many South Africans, whether you are in the corporate space [or not],” he said.
In the face of widespread backlash, Leon insisted that Maimane never voted for the official opposition before joining it.
“Of course it was an experiment, something different, something original … How this is dehumanising – I understand people are angry, they are suffering at various levels – is extraordinary,” he said.