The results of the general election had not been declared yet, but the electronic boards towering over the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) results operations centre in Pretoria were an indictment of the Democratic Alliance. After nine years of the train wreck that was Jacob Zuma, the country’s largest opposition party somehow emerged weaker at the polls.
It ought not to have made any sense. And yet, it somehow did. The DA had spent much of the year before at war with itself. And without the spectre of Zuma to fall back on, the party grew incoherent, unable to enunciate what exactly it offered that was any different to Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC.
And so the party wound itself into a morass of compromise and confusion — not exactly the right look for an election.
And with the IEC’s electronic boards ticking over in a cruel taunt, some of the DA members assembled at the Tshwane Events Centre spoke in hushed tones about what had to happen next. Maimane had to go. And soon.
But an early federal congress to elect a new leader would require funding — funding that the party did not have. DA representatives readily admitted to the Mail & Guardian they had struggled to raise money ahead of the election. And Maimane knew this well. So he was prepared. He was ready to bide his time, willing his detractors to challenge him.
It was a wily move. After all, an official challenge to Maimane has still not yet been made. But that’s where Maimane’s wiles appear to have been exhausted. He is now on the back foot. Through an op-ed by a staffer of the DA-aligned Institute of Race Relations, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has emerged as a potential challenger to Maimane. But Maimane is hardly in a position to confront clandestine manoeuvrings against him.
The Rapport newspaper last week reported that Maimane continued using a Toyota Fortuner donated to the party by disgraced Steinhoff chief executive Marcus Jooste, despite being urged to return it when Jooste was alleged to have defrauded just about everyone with a pulse who came into contact with Steinhoff.
And it was not the first damaging allegation made against Maimane either.
Just a week before, the same newspaper reported that Maimane had falsely declared a property in Claremont, Cape Town, as his own, when he was actually renting it from someone he claims is his business partner.
The contradiction is puzzling, and Maimane has not been able to arrest any doubt in his integrity that these allegations may have prompted. Instead, he is lamenting the behaviour of his party members.
Of course the knives are out for him — he presided over an abysmal showing in the election while failing to win over the confidence of a faction of the party that believes the DA has betrayed its “true liberal” heart. But merely pointing out that forces in his party are moving to oust him by leaking these allegations to the media is perhaps the greatest indication of Maimane’s inability to steer the party ahead. He is determined to cling to an allegation of political conspiracy, slamming those who leak party matters to the media, as though this is an adequate explanation of the very serious allegations against him that now exist in public forums.
By waving his hands about, and crying conspiracy, Maimane has failed to explain whether these allegations hold any truth. Coupled with amaBunghane’s investigations into suspicious tender activity under the DA’s watch in Tshwane and Johannesburg, the party has well and truly lost its “Head Prefect” badge. Much like the ANC, the DA is so embroiled in its own controversies that it cannot possibly point fingers at anyone else.