/ 7 May 2018

Maimane: There’s no ‘race war’ in the DA

Planned progression: The election of Mmusi Maimane as the leader of the Democratic Alliance marked a new phase in the growth of the party.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane. (Troy Enekvist/M&G)

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has rubbished claims that members of his party are divided because of race, and has instead said that an internal debate on white privilege has been “mischaracterised”.

Maimane has been fielding questions about a discussion in the DA Parliament caucus sparked by comments he made to confront white privilege on Freedom Day.

A report by City Press newspaper on Sunday suggested that at least three MPs had challenged Maimane’s comments on how the party must address inequality in the country, fearing they would lose their white constituency. The newspaper reported that DA deputy chief whip Mike Waters, chief whip John Steenhuisen and MP Natasha Mazzone stood up against their party leader in the meeting.

But Maimane has dismissed claims that his leadership has been challenged, and has instead said that the debate was cordial.

“The difficulty is that there’s sometimes a superficial analysis that if three or four people raise a concern about something and they happen to be of a different race to me then it’s a race war,” Maimane told the Mail & Guardian on Monday.

“There’s this view that if a discussion takes place among people of different races, then one race must be superior to another. I as a leader, and a black South African who is proud to be so, will stand up for what I said. Part of what we have to do is confront these issues all over society,” he said.

In his speech on Freedom Day in Tshwane, Gauteng, Maimane had listed the ways in which white people had benefited from the injustice black people had historically suffered in South Africa. But, he said on Monday, white privilege isn’t the reason race-based inequality still dominates South African society.

“It isn’t caused by the fact that white people are privileged, it is caused by our history. It is caused by the last number of years in terms of what we do in government and the history of our country that is still with us,” he said.

While Maimane has insisted that the party is not divided over issues like white privilege, his comments have spurred support and apparent reticence from some in the party. Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba penned a letter in support of Maimane, while Mazzone later defended her position saying her father was “dark” and therefore disadvantaged during apartheid. Maimane himself defended Mazzone on Monday, telling the M&G that her views on white privilege during the caucus meeting had been “distorted” in the media.

The DA has been in the spotlight in recent months over race and representation in its own structures. The party has adopted a “diversity clause” to encourage more inclusivity in its ranks.

READ MORE: DA adopts diversity clause, but rejects Maimane’s version

Soon, the party will canvass potential candidates who could be listed to sit in the blue benches in Parliament or provincial structures. The DA leader would not say what would qualify as a fair representation in these lists, but the party is avoiding a quota-based process in its bid to include more black leaders.

“That’s a Constitutional black. In other words, it’s coloured, Indian … South Africans who have been marginalised and addressing the historical injustice,” Maimane said.

He says that there is a recruitment process to encourage South Africans to apply for DA benches “particularly South Africans who have been historically left out”.

“That’s my mission: to say how do we make it possible for more of these people to apply on to our lists and to say get onto our processes.”

However, while Maimane prepares for elections, he is juggling controversies in the DA’s Cape Town caucus where Mayor Patricia de Lille faces possible removal from public office.

De Lille and accountability

After De Lille was informed that around 70% of the DA’s caucus in Cape Town voted against her in a motion of no confidence last month, she posted a video on Twitter which soon went viral. In the video, she wears boxing gloves and talks about doing battle with the DA, while a poster above her head reads: “Don’t let racists speak for you”.

Some of the public sympathy De Lille has received has come from people who believe that DA leaders has targeted her because she is a coloured woman. It hasn’t helped that two senior officials in the party who are seen to be part of a faction opposing her leadership – caucus deputy leader JP Smith and Steenhuisen – are white men.

But Maimane has said that race has nothing to do with De Lille’s case in the party.

“The principle of accountability must be consistent regardless of what race there is. The issue of Patricia De Lille, I really do believe we need to get to the issues there and if there is accountability that is being affected,” he said.

“If tomorrow the same thing had to happen to Herman [Mashaba], would it be because he is black or would it be because we are affecting accountability?,” he said.

Maimane has also denied that there’s any double standard over how his party has treated De Lille and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. In April, Zille ignited uproar when she tweeted that colonialism was not only negative and it “helped end slavery”. Zille was dismissed from DA structures last year after the party found she had brought it into disrepute for similar remarks she made in 2017 on Twitter.

Maimane said that following her latest tweets, he had a discussion with Zille but he believes that she has been fairly held accountable for her actions.

“I’ve had a conversation with Helen Zille in this regard because we’re dealing with a question of accountability but what cannot be underscored is that … when Helen Zille made those remarks, and you see here’s the thing, we dealt with her. We dealt with her in terms of that she was removed from structures of the organisation and she had to apologise to the people of South Africa [last year]. What I think we must do is to ask was there accountability affected? Yes, there was,” Maimane said.

“Is there accountability being affected on Patricia de Lille? Yes there is. If Patricia de Lille wants a different process, that’s well within her rights as an individual.”

“But in essence, we can’t create a false moral equivalent to say ok, whether alleged governance failures – and I’m saying alleged government failures – must be paralleled to tweets,” he said.

While Maimane is facing a trying period as the DA prepares for the 2019 elections, he says that he is confident in his leadership and that despite the public concentration on controversies within his party, it remains an opposition that has grown to lead municipalities like Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay.

His party, he said, has not yet been derailed come 2019.

“We’re focussed. Let us get on with elections,” Maimane said.