With only a few months left until the 2019 national elections, the Democratic Alliance this week found itself beset by a new crisis —its decision to disavow broad-based black economic empowerment.
The negative public reaction to policy head Gwen Ngwenya’s announcement about ditching the empowerment legislation governing companies is expected to dominate discussions at the next federal executive committee meeting.
The row overshadowed the announcement of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille’s resignation, a move that may finally draw a line under the dispute that has dominated a year of internal disputes, policy disagreement and coalition challenges for the country’s official opposition party.
On Sunday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane announced the party had amicably resolved issues with De Lille, who would be resigning as mayor at the end of October.
This follows months of clashes between De Lille and the DA, including no-confidence motions from her own caucus.
But De Lille has denied resigning because of an agreement with the party and has threatened legal action against members she accuses of defaming her.
Political observers have warned that De Lille’s resignation could result in voter backlash in the Western Cape, where she enjoys a large following. But Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela told the Mail & Guardian this week that De Lille’s resignation offered the party a chance to mend relations with its supporters.
“As a leader I was very concerned about what was happening. I’m relieved, I must be honest,” Madikizela said.
“I think the fact that we have reached a settlement and agreed to move forward is really a relief for me because it affords us an opportunity to focus on what matters —service delivery and the election campaign for 2019,” he added.
“Most of our supporters have been saying ‘please sort this thing out, we are worried about the infighting in the party. We don’t care who is wrong and who is right, we want you to resolve the matter.’
“There’s a perception [among voters] that when we fight among ourselves they don’t matter. And then issues of service delivery become even more concerning for them when that happens,” he said.
Despite Madikizela’s optimism, the party has been projected to lose 31% of its support next year according to research firm Ipsos.
The party has also faced criticism of its handling of the water crisis in Cape Town earlier this year.
The DA has dismissed these findings.
Its problems, however, permeate to the provinces.
In Gauteng, a province the DA has put much of its resources into winning, the party faces a looming battle about the selection of premier candidates.
The so-called black caucus, a grouping of “progressive” members in the party, is under threat because of the rift between premiership hopefuls and once-close allies Makashule Gana and Solly Msimanga.
Gana has said he felt betrayed by Msimanga, who is standing as a candidate for premier, despite assuring Gana that he would not stand.
Divisions in this grouping could prove fatal for the DA’s campaign, especially as it tries to lure more black voters.
Msimanga has also been criticised for being prepared to disrupt the continuity of leadership in the Tshwane metro where he is mayor, should he be successful as premier.
Gauteng leader John Moodey has attempted to calm the tensions, saying Msimanga was within his rights to stand for the position.
He also said the party had enough capable leaders to replace Msimanga as Tshwane mayor if necessary.
“Solly was within his rights to avail himself. And the party is within its own right to field him should it see him as the best candidate,” Moodey said.
“There is enough talent in the DA, should Solly be the candidate and succeed as premier, for us to be able to fill his position in Tshwane with a very competent individual. That is not a concern for me.”
Moodey stressed that Msimanga and Gana represented the kind of activism and leadership that would allow the DA to perform well in Gauteng.
The DA continues to face problems in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, where the party has long struggled to overcome the hurdle of a difficult coalition partnership with the United Democratic Movement.
Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip faces the prospect of yet another motion of no confidence brought by opposition parties who have frequently accused him of being anti-poor.
Because the DA acknowledges that it will probably need coalitions to take power from the ANC in next year’s elections, positive relations with other opposition parties will be crucial.
The difficulties it has faced in coalition municipalities such as Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg, where it has struggled to pass budgets, might also deter voters who might want to take a chance on the DA next