It is sad when a party loses talented people. It is sadder when one has worked for decades to build a party to see it teetering on the brink of a major setback.
Helen Zille and Mmusi Maimane. (Photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Wikus de Wet)
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Despite Maimane's insistence after the elections that he would be safe in his position as leader of the DA until 2021, it was clear as daylight that his days were numbered. The blue hyenas quickly started circling, writes Melanie Verwoerd.
Every now and then in politics all you can do is throw your hands up in the air. Remember the reaction of Marelize's mum after her daughter cycled into the rugby posts? Well, that is how I felt this week about all the DA's shenanigans.
And I'm not the only one who feels that way. After I sent Helen Zille's announcement that she would contest the position of DA federal chairperson to a WhatsApp group of asset managers and bankers, I got numerous exasperated texts back: "I give up!", "Watch their support fall some more", "To be fair, it can't be much worse than it already is" and "DA is in such a mess." Some sent emoticons swearing or laughing out loud.
What should concern the DA is that most of these reactions came from people who would have supported and donated money towards it in the past. It is extraordinary that a party that was given opportunities galore on an ANC plate, could self destruct to the extent that it has.
If the DA had done nothing but turn up in Parliament for Jacob Zuma's last five years, they should have been able to increase their support significantly. The ANC had made such a mess, infuriated voters so much and had so many internal problems, that the DA should have been able to sit back and rake in the votes.
EXPLAINED | What is the DA's federal council?
But no! Helen Zille had to tweet ... and not apologise, and then tweet some more … and then not apologise and then tweet some more. They took on Patricia de Lille. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Women: "BIG mistake."
They messed up the water issue in Cape Town and made a spectacular blunder in Schweizer-Reneke … all whilst Mmusi Maimane was driving around in his Steinhoff sponsored Fortuner. (Why, oh why?)
Unsurprisingly, when it came round to the elections, the DA was punished by voters. In Gauteng and the Western Cape, many split their votes and voted for Cyril Ramaphosa nationally. In the inland provinces in particular, the DA lost a huge amount of support to the FF+.
This was no surprise, since Afrikaans voters were no longer impressed by the appeal to unite the opposition against the ANC. They mostly have no objections to Ramaphosa and therefore went back to a party that they felt would look after their interests better.
Despite Maimane's insistence after the elections that he would be safe in his position as leader of the DA until 2021, it was clear as daylight that his days were numbered. The blue hyenas quickly started circling and an announcement of some position at Harvard or the IRR (take your pick) seems imminent. (How sweet it must be for De Lille watching all of this from her ministerial office.)
Of course it is not obvious who the successor would be. There seems to be concerns around Solly Msimanga, and the way Lindiwe Mazibuko as well as Gwen Ngwenya have been worked out of the party. John Steenhuisen – who is undoubtedly a very competent politician – is often mentioned as a potential candidate.
However, if the DA decides to go with Steenhuisen and given that all the nominees for the position of federal chairperson are white, it would be very hard to argue that the DA is a party for all South Africans. If they elect another white leader, they would almost certainly have to accept that they are a party representing only minorities. It would make the whole idea of them becoming the majority party at some stage in the future, or even a serious coalition partner, laughable.
ANALYSIS | Seeds of DA discontent were sown in 2015
It is significant that, according to newspaper reports, former party leader Tony Leon and former party strategist Ryan Coetzee have intervened in the leadership drama. Apparently they are pressuring the DA leadership to hold an early elective conference and have asked Maimane not to make himself available for re-election.
The question is whether a new federal chair and leader would actually solve the DA's internal problems. I doubt it.
At the IEC election centre in May, Maimane said of the ANC: "It has put a new driver in the same old, broken bus." Given the gigantic mess that his party is in, I can't help but think that these words would be equally, if not more applicable to the DA.
- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.
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