Younger, black members of the Democratic Alliance say former leaders Helen Zille and Tony Leon should stay retired and accept that the party has moved on.
Tony Leon stepped into the ongoing DA fracas when he and other leaders of the party approached leader Mmusi Maimane to step down.
Maimane refused. Instead, he’s suggested an early party election.
Eight months after finishing two terms as Western Cape Premier, Zille — the former party leader — quit her job as a senior policy fellow at the Institute for Race Relations.
Announcing her candidacy, she said: “In recent months, the DA has been through a period of turmoil and distress.”
“As a party, it is important for us to reflect, to introspect and to begin the process of reconnecting with voters. If elected as Chairperson of the Federal Council, my objective will be to support the leadership in its goal of stabilising the party and getting it back on track,” she said.
The Mail & Guardian canvassed several DA MPs, who are unhappy with Zille and Leon’s return to internal party politics.
“The risk with people who’ve had their turn and now want to come back in how it is perceived in public. Some people are unable to let go and allow those who are in charge of leading. If people felt they left far too early, then they must live with the consequences,” said one DA MP.
“What is happening here is that ex-leaders are regretting they left because the world outside politics isn’t as fulfilling as they thought it would be. There’s also this sense of mistrust or the belief that those who come after them need to sustain their legacy rather than chart their course.“
DA Youth leader Luyolo Mphithi said those who want to contest positions must also think of how the party is then viewed if it wants to attract young people.
“Anybody in the party has the ability to make their views known to contest positions. I don’t find it problematic… If she [Zille] feels she’s capable enough she has every right to do so. The question we must ask though is what organisation do we want, and how does that organisation look and feel like.”
Some party members say feel that Mmusi Maimane is being undermined while they say the party in general still has faith in him.
Other members feel the upcoming election for a new Federal Executive (FedEx) chairperson could be seen as a precursor to a 2021 elective conference — where Maimane is likely to be challenged for the leadership position.
A party member told the M&G that: “With all the public spats in the last few days, we’ve had several members going on radio and tv to say this or that particular leader is not fit to lead. I’d like to think the Fedex chair election is not a proxy battle for leadership, but we just have to connect the dots.”
The heat is still on Mmusi Maimane, following a disappointing election season for the party, where it lost five seats in the National Assembly — going from 89 to 84 seats.
Subsequently, the party has had wards snatched from it in recent by-elections across the country. In these, it has lost out mainly to the African National Congress and the Freedom Front Plus.
One DA Federal Executive Committee member said the party is panicking ahead of the 2021 local government elections. The big fear is especially in metropolitan areas like Johannesburg and Tshwane, where the party has cobbled together cooperative agreements with smaller parties.
The DA has already lost power in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro where former mayor Athol Trollip was ousted in a vote of no confidence.
Only the City of Cape Town is seen as relatively safe, where the party won a two-thirds majority in 2016 municipal polls.
“The election results were a difficult reality for us. That is driving all this contestation. People are reacting in different ways in how we recover from this slump we had. It came as a shock,” the senior party member said.
Following steady growth since the 1999 general election where it managed only 1.7% of the vote to 2014 where it received its highest percentage of 22.3%, 2019 saw the DA slump for the first time in its history to 20.7%
Last week in an internal investigation the party cleared Maimane of any wrongdoing after leaked stories questioned his occupation of a house owned by a business partner, and a vehicle donated by a Marcus Jooste Steinhof company appeared in the media.
Maimane has maintained that he paid monthly rent, and the party confirmed the vehicle was returned after the party got wind of Jooste’s alleged financial malfeasance.
But Maimane isn’t out of the spotlight just yet. At the FedEx election on the 18th of October, an election review report is expected to be tabled.
It will unpack the party’s electoral performance and will make recommendations as to how to win back support. “The possibilities for recommendations could be broad,” said one party senior member.
“It could hypothetically recommend what type of coffee should be served at DA offices, to a decision that the leader should be removed.”
Party spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the review report is not meant to be punitive, but put forward solutions for how the party unifies and attracts voters.
“The party realises now more than ever we need to be united. We need to rally behind a common vision. It is clear the interventions that the leadership has initiated, including the (election) review, are part of the solutions that we need so we can recover from some of the voting losses,” Malatsi said.