Another race row has rocked the DA after senior party leaders took Mmusi Maimane to task over his comments on “white privilege”.
But this time Maimane is feeling the heat from his three most senior colleagues in Parliament. Some party insiders allege they mounted an “orchestrated attack on him” during a heated caucus meeting on Thursday.
The DA’s leader has been under fire this week for his comments that “white privilege and black poverty” must be confronted, which he made during a rally in Soshanguve on Freedom Day.
At the caucus meeting, the DA’s Deputy Chief Whip Mike Waters, Chief Whip John Steenhuisen and MP Natasha Mazzone allegedly took Maimane on. The three are said to be frightened of alienating white voters ahead of next year’s crucial general election, after which the party wants to take control of Gauteng. Joining in the “attack” was MP Ghaleb Cachalia.
Cachalia told City Press that while he does not want to comment on an internal party matter, he wants to state on the record that his comments related to Maimane’s juxtaposition of white privilege and black poverty. He said the subject is complex and requires ongoing engagement with party leaders to unpack what is meant by the two terms.
Sources who attended the meeting told City Press that the three senior parliamentarians argued that Maimane’s comments will alienate the DA’s traditional voter support base and lead to a haemorrhaging of votes in 2019.
The standoff comes less than a month after Maimane was re-elected as party leader at the party’s elective conference. The event was characterised by a tough debate on diversity, an issue Maimane has been championing.
This confrontation at caucus is believed to have been triggered by the fact that some members are worried about how this will affect their positions, and the impact it will have on jobs for senior white party members in Parliament and in government.
Those who sympathise with Maimane said the onslaught is about a greater battle now underway, about candidate selection processes and Maimane’s commitment to putting more black people on the DA’s benches in Parliament.
An MP told City Press that Maimane’s comments provided an opportunity to those who have been gearing up to fight him on the diversity question.
“Things happen according to seasons in the party. Nominations have opened and close in June and, at this point, battles always happen in the DA,” the MP said.
“They (Maimane’s detractors) found something that they want to niggle about. Firstly, it has to do with the diversity clause and Mmusi saying that he wants to see lists that are more diverse. Obviously, with Mmusi going out and talking about white privilege, certain people now feel their positions are not secure.
“So now they start this argument, which is neither here nor there. It is basically a few people. It seemed very coordinated, by a few people who are feeling very insecure. Change is coming and they just can’t stop it.” The MP said the transformation debate has been a subject of discussion in the party for a long time.
“It is not a debate anymore about how diverse those benches are. This is being used as a proxy argument to say, ‘the DA doesn’t care about the base anymore. They don’t care about white people’ to ensure that the lists have more white people, to counter that argument.”
Waters and Steenhuisen declined to comment.
"We want to break these barriers down"
In terms of the party’s internal list processes, an electoral college is convened and potential candidates have the opportunity to promote themselves.
After that, successful candidates meet with a selection panel made up of former MPs and councillors who pass on their preferences to the party’s federal executive, which has the final say, as well as the power to move people up or down the list.
It is understood that Maimane’s first real test of leadership will be the outcome of the list processes, when he has vowed to transform not only the benches in Parliament, but other structures of the party he “inherited” from former leader Helen Zille.
Maimane’s bid to transform the party has been met with resistance from some members, who argue that he is alienating their voters.
Maimane told City Press yesterday that he makes no apologies for his Freedom Day comments, nor for his stance on the need for change in the party, even if it causes unease with some.
“I firmly stand by the comments I made during the party’s Freedom Day celebrations. This is because South Africa remains a deeply unequal society in which black South Africans remain locked out of opportunities, even after 24 years of democracy.
“The systemic consequences of apartheid still remain. The ANC has done little to break down this inequality and as the DA we want to break these barriers down,” Maimane said.
“The federal congress held last month resolved to adopt diversity as one of the party’s values, underpinned by fairness. The congress took a decision to actively promote diversity within the DA. It is with that goal in mind that I will approach the lists process the party is about to undertake.”
Maimane said he felt the caucus ended on a good note because everyone had the chance to give their view and he further explained his comments. He reminded the caucus that the party had made a commitment to fairness.
“The liberation of one race is not the enslaving of another.
“In fact it is a call to say, ‘all of us people, if we recognise there is an injustice to one, we can work together to address it’. Just like if I saw that women are marginalised, I don’t need to be a woman to fight for women’s issues.
“I called on white people to say, ‘you are part of the solution and not the problem, so come in and say what contribution you can make to address the problem’.
“What is that fairness in our values of freedom, fairness and opportunity referring to? How is it fair in South Africa, when white children grew up on an education of R70 and black kids R2.75 per day? I told the caucus that there was a system that was set up to advantage people.
“Inequality still persists. The only consistent measure that we have at this point for measuring inequality, is race. If you use income as a measure of that, then you must concede that even that income is still skewed along racial lines. White South Africans are still earning five times more than their black counterparts.
“Naturally we said the solution is not that black people are poor because white people are rich, black people are poor because we had a history that divided people, that created an injustice. We have a government that has failed to deal with redress. If you agree with the values of the organisation, then fairness is a value.”
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