Is Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane taking political classes from South Africa’s last apartheid-era president?
While investigating claims of racism within the DA this week, four separate senior DA insiders confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that Maimane had visited former president FW de Klerk on various occasions.
“He [Maimane] has been to his [De Klerk’s] house a few times and sought his advice on speeches and leadership and acting presidential. In the party they are known as ‘leadership classes’,” said one.
A constituency leader said: “He’s [Maimane] a new guy on the block whose [political] experience is mostly in Gauteng, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong in him getting advice from former leaders, even though there may be a stigma attached in this instance. De Klerk took the bold step to release Nelson Mandela from prison, so he’s clearly not anti-reconciliation.”
A DA Youth representative also defended the alleged decision, saying: “I’m of the firm belief that if you want to drive a car you must go to a driving school, which is what Mmusi is doing. De Klerk led South Africa out of apartheid, so it’s fitting that he advise Mmusi. Others may have a problem with it, but I personally don’t.”
But a federal council representative disagreed: “I’m very shocked to hear this. We are busy fighting racism in the party and Mmusi even did a very powerful speech on it so if this is true it’s a double standard. I’m going to raise this in federal council and I’ll never support something like this.”
Maimane would not answer specific questions about the claims.
DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme responded on his behalf to these and other questions, saying: “We are not going to give oxygen to nameless and faceless individuals who make unsubstantiated claims behind the cloak of anonymity.”
The four party insiders – one staff member from national head office, two members of a provincial legislature and one member of the federal executive – declined to be named, citing a culture of silence around race-sensitive complaints.
A spokesperson for De Klerk said he was not available to comment on the allegations as he was travelling.
De Klerk won the Nobel peace prize in 1993 with former president Nelson Mandela “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”.
But he has since come under scrutiny for his past as an apartheid leader and occupies an increasingly complicated space in South Africa’s public life. Recently, the FW de Klerk Foundation made headlines when it reported 45 social media posts, made by “disaffected blacks”, that it perceives as racist to the Human Rights Commission, following the public outcry at Penny Sparrow’s comparison of black people to monkeys and the ensuing comments from the ANC’s Velaphi Khumalo.
The ANC member has since been suspended from the party for stating that white people should be “eradicated” from South Africa, which sparked debate about whether black people can be racist.
Speaking about their HRC complaint the De Klerk foundation said: “Most media commentators viewed Sparrow’s remarks and the subsequent far less controversial comments of Chris Hart and Gareth Cliff as evidence of rampant and pervasive white racism. However an analysis of Facebook and Twitter messages shows that by far the most virulent and dangerous racism – expressed in the most extreme and violent language – has come from disaffected black South Africans. The messages are replete with threats to kill all whites – including children; to rape white women or to expel all whites from South Africa.”
De Klerk has also been lambasted by the #RhodesMustFall student movement at England’s Oxford University after he criticised students who wish to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at one of the university’s campuses. The Oxford chapter of the movement called his statement on the matter “cute”.
Capetonians also rallied against the naming of a busy street after De Klerk, with detractors saying that the City of Cape Town ought to name the street after a black struggle hero rather than De Klerk.
Regardless of whether the allegations are true, the perception that Maimane could be taking lessons from De Klerk is likely to cause further friction in a party already battling with a number of scandals around racism at a time of increased sensitivity in South Africa.
Sparrow was an ordinary DA member, but her affiliation with the party caused it untold damage. She was subsequently suspended from the DA. “Racists are not welcome in the DA, and have no place in our democratic South African society,” the party said.
Her comments were also roundly condemned by Maimane, who spoke passionately about rooting out racists in a recent landmark speech that impressed many.
His one time peer in the party, former parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, commended Maimane but pointed out there was a “brains trust” of “white males” in the party who would continue to prevent real change.
Others have called for real action instead of words, citing the suspension of party stalwart and MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, whose DA membership was terminated and subsequently restored following a social media disaster.
Kohler Barnard’s membership was terminated at the end of October after she shared a Facebook post praising apartheid president PW Botha. The post said: “Please come back PW Botha – you were far more honest than any of these [ANC] rogues, and you provided a far better service to the public.”
She later said she had not read the post fully before sharing it. The party’s decision to overturn her expulsion was unpopular with many black South Africans, who were particularly vocal on social media.
The fetish with former apartheid-era and colonial leaders continued when a photo came to light this month of DA MP Anchen Dreyer posing with a cardboard cut-out of Paul Kruger at a Solidarity event in October. Her sign read: “Happy birthday Uncle Paul” in Afrikaans.
Both the DA and Dreyer dismissed criticism of the photo, saying South Africa has a rich and complex history that cannot be wished away. The ANC, however, has used each of these incidents to label the opposition as racist, in an attempt to drive away potential DA voters.
The current allegation could well be part of a smear campaign against Maimane, in a party that has seen similar tactics deployed against leaders such as Mazibuko to discredit them.
If Maimane has consulted De Klerk, it would be an incredibly unwise association during an extremely politically sensitive time for the party, ahead of an election. If he hasn’t, he would do well to quell the perception that he is enthralled by former apartheid leaders – especially ones as controversial as De Klerk. – Additional reporting by Ra’eesa Pather
Addition: After this article was published De Klerk’s spokesperson issued a statement on his behalf saying: “There is no truth in the rumours that I am ‘tutoring Mmusi Maimane’. He has never been to my home and never sought my advice ‘on speeches and leadership and acting presidential’. I only met him once, at my office, in March 2015 when he paid me a courtesy visit. It is also untrue that I at any stage said ‘that black people are more racist than white people’. The report which appeared to this effect was untrue and the FW de Klerk Foundation is taking steps to correct this.”
Given De Klerk’s dispute of the paraphrase by another media publication of his comments about the levels of racism from black people versus white people, the paraphrase, which was referred to in this article, has been removed and replaced with his quote in full.