The events that have unfolded in the DA in the last few weeks have shown that Zille has more influence in the party than Maimane. In a sense, he serves at her pleasure, writes Ralph Mathekga.
The election of Helen Zille to chair the federal council of the DA is a development that has become an instant crisis for the party. The former party leader has become so controversial that even Herman Mashaba finds it difficult to stand next to her.
Imagine Mashaba accusing anyone of being a weapon of right-wing elements! He announced his resignation as mayor of Johannesburg and as a member of the DA a day after Zille was chosen as the new sheriff in charge. He is never short of tantrums and he did not waste time in dropping a bombshell on Zille.
At issue in the DA is not whether or not Zille offers viable solutions to the embattled party. It is rather a matter of where to now for Mmusi Maimane, who has just been rejected by those who preferred Zille.
She made herself available to lead the federal council after rebranding herself as a no nonsense defender of liberalism. Those who supported her return have in the course rejected Maimane's idea of selling the DA to newer constituents. At this point, it is difficult to reconcile the two's worldviews.
When she openly associated herself with an organisation that rejected Maimane's vision by joining the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), Zille stepped onto a podium that dictates that she leads the DA away from him. It is very telling that the first strong statement she made was to assure Maimane that she will "stay in her lane".
From this it's clear that she understands she has staged a successful coup against him and the only thing for her to do is probably to defer his execution until such a time that it can be done. By saying that she will stay in her lane, she is also passing a message to Maimane not to tempt her to veer out of her lane.
The events that have unfolded in the DA in the last few weeks have shown that Zille has more influence in the party than Maimane. In a sense, he serves at her pleasure. This is the reason why he has no choice but to attempt to renew his mandate by calling for an early elective conference.
It is a big gamble for Maimane; who is clearly struggling to keep his head above the water in the organisation, which is beginning to see him as a non-performer. He will therefore be hoping that if he wins the elective conference, he will be able to use his mandate to become more assertive in pronouncing his agenda.
But it will be difficult to win an elective conference with the current state of things in the DA, given also his personal scandals, including allegations that he lives in a house that belongs to a businessman. Maimane might survive, not because he is seen as capable of taking the DA forward, but only because removing him might trigger a mutiny in the party; with prominent regional leaders in Gauteng protesting the state of things in the organisation.
If Maimane were to suddenly resign amidst all this, Zille will be blamed and she cannot have another prominent leader leaving because of her.
The best way to manage the contagion from Zille is for the DA to retain Maimane so he can continue driving the message of multiracialism and help the party to begin searching for a new leader to take over from him later.
Maimane's tenure should be allowed until the local government elections in 2021, from which the party should be in a position to prepare for national elections with a new leader.
- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.
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