Maimane vs Gana: Battle lines drawn in the DA

The lines have been drawn in the battle for Lindiwe Mazibuko’s vacated position as the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) leader in Parliament, with the fight likely taking place between the opposition party leader Helen Zille’s golden boy, Mmusi Maimane, and a key figure in the party’s so-called black caucus, Makashule Gana. 

News of Gana’s possible play for the second top spot in the party broke on Twitter on Tuesday thanks to DA youth leader Mbali Ntuli, an independently minded leader who has had her share of run-ins with Zille. “Chief I hear you running for Parliamentary Leader? @Makashule great stuff all the best!” Really!!!” tweeted Ntuli on Tuesday just before 5pm. 

But Gana is playing his cards close to his chest for now, telling the Mail & Guardian: “The nominations are not open yet. If nominated I will not decline,” he said. “If members say I must avail myself,  I have to listen.” Given the support he seemed to receive from others in the party on Twitter, a nomination is likely.

Meanwhile, Maimane appears to be definitely heading for the national stage, according to the party’s final national and provincial legislature lists, which the M&G has obtained. The party submitted its final list to the Independent Electoral Commission on Monday.  

Maimane, the party’s candidate for Gauteng premier, previously had his name on both provincial and national lists for the DA. Now, his name appears only on the national list, meaning he does not plan on furthering his career in the province.  

The battle was long-expected to take place between Maimane, who has largely steered clear from the independently minded caucus within the party, and Mazibuko, who has increasingly asserted herself in the parliamentary position and clashed on occasion with Zille, raising the ire of certain factions in the party.

Mazibuko has also aligned herself to the caucus. Her stepping out of the race was thought to have cleared the way for Maimane, who has been punted for various high profile positions in the party during his meteoric rise under Zille.

But the surprise move by the DA’s deputy federal chairperson, Gana, a senior if low-profile individual, could change the tone of the race entirely, pitting two very different kinds of young black leaders in the party against each other. 

They’re both accomplished. Maimane holds a masters degree in theology, and is studying towards a second masters degree in public administration, and Gana has a BSc in mathematics and computer science and is studying towards a post graduate diploma in management with Wits Business School. But Maimane has had the lion’s share of further development and training from the party.  

In political analyst Eusebius Mckaiser’s book, Could I vote DA?, he devotes a chapter to Gana called “The wrong kind of black”, positing that Gana, who grew up rural and poor, has failed to adequately master the “grammar of whiteness” in the same way Mazibuko and Maimane have, and that that has partially constrained his progress through the party structures.

Gana, who grew up in poverty in rural Limpopo, has been in the party far longer than both Maimane and Mazibuko and, according to Mckaiser, has a story that resonates far better with most South Africans. 

But the quiet Gana’s public speaking skills are thought to be poor and in need of coaching, which may stymie his chances against the charismatic Maimane. But Maimane has also had his fair share of criticism for requiring a strong team to bolster him, being poor on details and coming across as too rehearsed and packaged in his image.

Tragic story
McKaiser noted in his book that Gana’s story within the DA was tragic: the party has failed to develop his public speaking ability and his grasp of policy positions.

“Some speak very disparagingly about him,” he said. But “there is a failure to understand that Gana’s story is far more recognisable to most black South Africans than Mazibuko’s. Gana’s story is a typical South Africa story of poverty … and an abiding awareness of one’s humble beginnings.”

Maimane is 33 and Gana is 30. 

Neither Maimane nor Gana have any experience in the National Assembly. Maimane is thought to have been groomed for the parliamentary position after a widening gap between the incumbent Mazibuko and party leader Zille. His name on both lists was a case of hedging his bets should his party not be successful in winning Gauteng. The ANC won the province with just over 53% of the vote, meaning that Maimane could choose to stay and lead the opposition caucus and build up to a potential victory in the 2016 local government elections, or he could choose to go to Parliament and contest the position of opposition leader. 

Maimane has not declared his candidacy yet. The party’s new caucus of 89 members must vote once the candidates put themselves forward sometime around when Parliament is reconvened on May 21. 

Mazibuko resigned from the party’s parliamentary caucus in a shock move on Sunday, after the results of the 2014 national and provincial elections were announced. She informed the Sunday Times of her decision to take a year off to study at the Kennedy School of Governance at the prestigious Harvard University in the United Sates, informing Zille of her decision thereafter. 

“I had considered it before, and believe the decision is the right thing at the right time for the DA and for me, because it will improve what I can offer the DA politically,” she told the paper at the time. 

Mazibuko’s ‘real reasons’ for leaving
Since the announcement, much mudslinging has taken place within the party over the “real reasons” for her departure, which goes to the heart of internal friction within the party that is spilling over after the elections. 

Former head of communications Gareth Van Onselen, who has long been set against the ascendency of Maimane over Mazibuko, argued in his Business Day column this week that Mazibuko was forced out. Van Onselen said that the internal environment within the DA under Zille’s “dominant and authoritarian” leadership had become toxic, with a deep divide having opened up between Zille and Mazibuko and the party’s staff taking sides in the resultant internal factional battles. 

“Mazibuko was sidelined out the DA’s election campaign, reduced to a bit player on posters, adverts and party events,” argued Van Onselen, who added that Maimane had resources thrown at him in his campaign for Gauteng premier.

He took aim at the party’s current head of communications, Gavin Davis, who has had a long-running enmity with Mazibuko. Davis in return penned his own response in Business Day, rubbishing Van Onselen’s claims. He also broke the news that Mazibuko had been offered the position of Gauteng premier and the large campaign resources that went with it but chose to decline, considering it a backwards step in her political career. He also argued that Mazibuko had stepped down out of fear of losing the party leadership to Maimane.

McKaiser has pointed out that Maimane’s development in the party has also been poor given his apparent job-hopping between high profile positions: premier candidate for the DA in Gauteng, caucus leader of the DA councillors in Johannesburg, national spokesperson, and now potentially gunning for the leadership of the party in Parliament. 

“This is not admirable,” writes McKaiser. “This is the patchy job-hopping CV of a young politician who is not adequately mentored to patiently earn his right to occupy a senior position … in a bottom-up manner within the party’s structures.”

Maimane was not able to comment immediately.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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