The surprise contender for the position of Democratic Alliance parliamentary caucus leader, Makashule Gana, will be set up for failure if party leader Helen Zille has her way.
The DA’s 103 parliamentary members – 89 for the National Assembly and 14 for the National Council of Provinces – will choose their leader on May 29, and the Mail & Guardian understands Gana plans to challenge Zille’s preferred candidate, Mmusi Maimane, for the position.
Both Gana and Maimane declined to comment until nominations open on May 26.
Meanwhile three senior DA leaders told the M&G that Zille is racing against the clock to lobby for Maimane, whom she has groomed for the position.
Gana’s move comes in the wake of incumbent Lindiwe Mazibuko’s surprising decision, announced on Sunday not to return as a DA member of Parliament. Mazibuko, who had a public falling-out with Zille, has instead chosen to study at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Cat among the pigeons
Gana’s eleventh-hour decision has thrown Maimane’s lobbyists, who were initially relieved there would be no bruising contest for the position, given Mazibuko’s departure.
The M&G understands that Gana is being encouraged by an independently-minded group known as the “black caucus” within the DA, who want to challenge what they see as Zille’s culture of anointing her “yes men and women” into senior positions, with little regard for what party members want – or what it means for the individual down the line, as in Mazibuko’s case.
Zille’s detractors have called her out for favouring and nurturing promising black leaders, as she did with outgoing MP Masizole Mnqasela, youth leader Mbali Ntuli and Mazibuko, and then alienating them when they disagree with her.
Her influence has been damaging for the party, they argue. “We don’t want to allow a situation where people are anointed and they get positions without a contest,” said one pro-Gana provincial leader.
Zille has special membership of the caucus in terms of the party’s constitution and can cast one vote. The rest of the caucus will cast their vote in secret.
Zille rubbished the claims of her influence, saying she would not canvass “anybody” on behalf of Maimane. “I don’t do that kind of thing anyway.”
But many within the DA have acknowledged that Zille has enormous influence over even democratic processes within the party, far beyond her single vote.
Her lobbying could well swing the vote in Maimane’s favour, as it did for her previous favourite Mazibuko when she ran against then-incumbent Athol Trollip in October 2011. It was a tight race: Mazibuko just scraped through, thanks to Zille’s persuasiveness on her behalf.
It will be trickier this time as Zille will have less time to mobilise people. “She doesn’t have as much time. We had a lot longer for Lindiwe,” said one returning MP. But he added: “Quite a few people will take her opinion into account … It’s quite a young caucus so people will probably default to her, as they’ll still be trying to find their feet.”
One new MP told the M&G they would be influenced by Zille’s take on what’s best for the party as leader.
A lobbyist for Maimane, who is a party official, said despite the DA’s stringent process of choosing legislature candidates, many successful MPs associated their success with Zille.
“Helen and her people are in charge,” the lobbyist said. “The leader will always have influence on who goes to Parliament, no matter what the branches say, so these MPs are Helen’s MPs.”
He added that MPs who supported Mazibuko for the parliamentary leader position in 2011 are not expected to back Gana.
On May 29 the new caucus will also have to vote for 10 other whips, including the deputy chief whip, chairperson and deputy chair of the caucus and leader of the NCOP. The position of parliamentary leader of the caucus comes with a salary of R1.36-million as opposed to the R933 852 a normal MP would earn.
No other contenders have put themselves forward as yet.
The new caucus appears to lack experienced leaders. Another DA national leader said: “It’s now a race between two people who have not been to Parliament before.”
This will be particularly problematic when it comes to the candidate’s choosing their favoured whip, a critical position.
“An inexperienced leader in Parliament will need a very strong chief whip,” said the returning MP. “We don’t really have anyone who can step up to that.”
Gauteng South regional leader Khume Ramulifho said positions in the DA should not be reserved for anyone: “No one is guaranteed a position. If people want to go for Gana, he’s got to lead.”
Ntuli spoke highly of Gana: “He has risen through the ranks of the party, he knows the party well and has ground support, especially in the youth and in Gauteng,” she said. “This is good for democracy and it’s a role he could grow into.”
Though those backing Gana know the odds are against them, they are willing to send a “strong message” that democracy within the DA cannot be controlled by a leadership cabal, said one of Gana’s lobbyists.
“Even if they say we are testing waters, we might test waters and waters may just come our way,” the lobbyist said.