Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane has put the option of an early elective conference on the table as increasing challenges to his leadership emerge mainly from within the party.
The latest attack on him comes from the DA aligned Institute of Race Relations, published an opinion piece by Hermann Pretorius calling for Maimane to be replaced by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde.
Over the past fortnight, and as reported in Rapport newspaper, the DA leader has fended off allegations from people in the party that he misled Parliament about a house where he and his family live, and that he accepted a free car from disgraced Steinhoff chief executive Marcus Jooste.
The anti-Maimane campaign started gathering moments earlier in the year, following the lower than expected results in the 2019 general elections. The DA retained power in the Western Cape but with a reduced majority. Nationally, support for the party declined. The DA lost votes to the Freedom Front Plus and the controversial and clumsy ousting of Patricia de Lille also harmed the party, reducing its share of the coloured vote.
Political analyst Steven Friedman wrote in Business Day that internal divisions are caused by the party’s “failure to deal with South Africa’s biggest issue: race”. He added that “by-elections show the problems DA politicians have with each other is nothing compared to those they have with voters”.
Two weeks ago, Rapport reported that Maimane was living in a house in Cape Town’s suburb of Claremont, which he had declared in Parliament’s register of members’ interests as his own.
Maimane clarified that the house was bought by his business partner and he was only renting it. He said that he didn’t know he did not have to declare a rented property.
Last week, Rapport carried a story saying that Maimane was being driven around in a vehicle donated by Jooste.
He said the SUV was returned as soon as the party got wind of Jooste’s alleged malfeasance. He also said that his party has not let up in probing Steinhoff in parliamentary committees investigating what happened at the retail holding company.
Talking to the Mail & Guardian Maimane said it was clear that people in the DA have leaked internal deliberations. “The party must investigate [who is behind leaks] because if the culture is created then we don’t have any [internal party] structures.”
Not naming anyone, he said of the leaks: “It’s not consistent with people who would claim to be a liberal democrat.”
Sources in the party, who did not want to be named, said that some people in the DA’s parliamentary caucus had been confronted by those close to Maimane, but have denied planning a plot to oust him.
There has been a stand-off inside the DA between the so-called traditional, white faction of the party, and young and mostly black emerging leaders. Voices such as those of MP Phumzile van Damme and KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislator Mbali Ntuli have butted heads with party colleagues on social media, giving glimpses into the tensions inside the party.
But the Daily Maverick reported this week that there “is another smaller faction said to be composed of former Maimane allies who have now turned against him”.
Maimane said the battle in the party is less about who leads it and more about its policies.
The DA has seen contestation over whether it should embrace black economic empowerment and economic redress, and a diversity clause in the party’s constitution.
“Conference debated and resolved on whether we need a diversity clause and it resolved that we needed one and it was included in the constitution of the DA. Now you can’t have a bunch of people saying, ‘We’ve lost the war at congress and now we are going to fight it in public’. These issues are supposed to be settled in congress,” Maimane said.
Maimane said he has noted challenges to his position, which have come in different ways and without anyone overtly stating that they want to become party leader.
“I was adamant when I went to FedEx [federal executive committee] to say that if we need an elective conference, then let’s do it,” he said. “FedEx did not accede to the request because they said we have a leader who we have elected, and how do we focus on rebuilding the party and focus on the future.”
A DA member who is a member of federal executive confirmed that Maimane proposed an early conference and that FedEx had turned his request down because it saw no need for early elections as it still enjoyed confidence in his leadership.
The FedEx member said that planning a special congress would be logistically difficult, required proper planning and would be expensive. It would also be a problem because the party held a federal congress last year and is two years away from its next one.
Of the Institute for Race Relations’ article calling for Maimane to be replaced by Winde, Maimane said: “The IRR has set itself up to fight internal party issues. I think if I was a donor or a contributor to that institute I would be concerned… once it gets involved in internal party leadership battles I think it is disingenuous and it is frankly cheap and dangerous.”
Maimane said there is no leadership race between him and Winde — or openly by anyone else in the party.
“Alan Winde is a candidate I’ve supported. I think he’s doing a great job in the Western Cape. I don’t have an issue with him. And I didn’t even feel it was necessary for him and me to discuss this matter. It became clear the agenda was to speak about the race of the individual rather than the individual themselves.”
Winde is reported to have said he is not interested in the job.
The party is expected to hold a conference in 2021 to elect a leader and a federal executive ahead of the local government elections.
Maimane has indicated that he will continue to make himself available for the position.
In the meantime, the battle for who will replace James Selfe as the DA’s federal executive chairperson — the second-most powerful position in the party — is apparently being fought out between former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip and DA MP Thomas Walters.
Both said they would not comment until the nominations process is opened.