Democratic Alliance (DA) rising star Mmusi Maimane is under attack, with a group of his fellow party leaders in the City of Johannesburg caucus hoping to remove him as caucus leader.
Maimane is also the party's national spokesperson and deputy federal chairperson.
Those who want Maimane out accuse him of poor performance as caucus leader.
The plan to topple him began as early as the beginning of last year, when his critics allegedly planned to table a motion of no confidence against him. The plan did not materialise, however. Another effort to thwart his political ambitions in the build-up to last November's DA congress also failed to get off the ground, and he was successfully elected as one of the party's three deputy federal chairpersons, with the highest votes of the nine candidates for the post.
Four Gauteng DA leaders confirmed that there was a plan to oust Maimane. A senior member of the DA caucus said that, although the motion of no confidence had yet to be put into action, it would happen soon.
The caucus member said the planned motion was linked, among other things, to allegations of maladministration. The caucus is apparently investigating alleged mismanagement of funds related to the money the city gave the party for its year-end function last year.
"Procurement processes were not followed when the money [about R35 000] was received [from the municipality] and used for the end-of-year function of DA councillors," said the caucus member.
"The caucus is pushing for Maimane to be held responsible for misuse of funds."
A DA official familiar with the circumstances said Maimane was not personally accused of involvement, but would be put under pressure because the alleged irregularities took place on his watch.
Others in the party said, however, that Maimane's problems began when party leaders chose him to run as the opposition party's mayoral candidate for Johannesburg.
Having joined the party a year and a half before he was selected as a candidate for mayor, Maimane was "parachuted through the channels" of the party, said one of his detractors, a member of the Gauteng provincial legislature. "There were people who thought being a black candidate would bring some benefits, but it didn't. Now there are questions about where he is, what kind of changes he has brought to Jo'burg."
But, the source said, it was important to take into consideration that Maimane was leading "the biggest caucus with a lot of challenges. It's a huge task on its own and the councillors need to forge towards one goal for the party to succeed."
Maimane said he was aware of the plot, but dismissed it as jostling for leadership positions.
"This is what is commonly referred to in politics as 'electionitis' and it always precedes major elections like the one we are preparing for in 2014," he said.
"We are planning and working day and night to win Gauteng in 2014. That is my only focus and it is the only focus of the vast majority of the DA's Jo'burg caucus, indeed of all DA members in this province."
Maimane said there was "a very small number" of people within the party who would prefer to see it fail in its mission to win Gauteng, "but I won't be distracted by those people".
A caucus member sympathetic to Maimane said he was being targeted because he had drawn attention to some members' poor performance record in the Johannesburg caucus.
"We knew there would be an onslaught on him," he said. "If people make such accusations, they must produce proof and take it through party processes."
Meanwhile, one of the DA's Gauteng provincial leaders told the M&G that the caucus in Johannesburg was badly run and had continued to deteriorate since Maimane's appointment two years ago, resulting in "dissension".
"They feel he is overloaded with work as a result of these many positions. Sometimes he leaves in the middle of meetings because he is rushing to the next meeting, leaving councillors little time to prepare or plan," said the source.
Maimane's lack of political experience is also being cited as one of the reasons for his allegedly poor leadership in the caucus. "He was just catapulted in [at the City of Johannesburg] as a mayoral candidate in 2011 and he became a leader with no experience. His lack of experience is now showing in the way he runs the Johannesburg caucus. It is time for a new, experienced caucus leader who can focus," said the source. The provincial legislature member said Maimane had been disadvantaged by being made a favourite by top DA leaders, including party leader Helen Zille, before he had learned the ropes.
"He had never led even a branch of the DA, he knows nothing about the DA. But sometimes, when leadership talks, people [opposed to the idea] just toe the line," he said.
Maimane (32) also appears to be mired in the party's battle within itself over transformation.
The legislature member said criticising Maimane was often reduced to a racial matter by those supporting him. "It's a big challenge because if you raise this, you're seen as not wanting transformation."
Maimane challenged those unhappy with his leadership to raise their concerns publicly within the party.