Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane is set to step down as party leader today after a meeting of the official opposition’s federal executive (FedEx) today.
Several sources within the party told Mail & Guardian that Maimane – under fire over the party’s poor performance in the May national and provincial elections – would announce his resignation as leader at a media briefing, when the meeting had come to a conclusion.
The move comes in the wake of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba’s resignation from his post — and from the party — in protest over the election of former Western Cape premier Helen Zille as federal chairperson of the DA at the weekend.
Mashaba is a key ally of Maimane and had threatened to leave should Zille be elected.
Maimane flanked Mashaba at the Monday briefing, describing him as a “hero” and sitting silently as Mashaba tore into the DA leadership.
Two senior party members, who are not participants in the FedEx meeting, said they had been informed that Maimane had resigned at the meeting following a meeting earlier in the morning with Zille.
“All I’ve been told is that he has resigned as leader but not from the party. That’s all I know at this stage. The meeting is still going on,’’ one of the DA members said.
The FedEx meeting, the first since Zille’s election, had been set to discuss the recommendations of the federal council meeting, which had debated the contents of the review panel report. The report recommended that Maimane, former DA federal chairperson James Selfe and chief executive officer Paul Boughey stand down over the poor showing at the polls.
In a television interview on Wednesday morning, Zille confirmed that the DA would be discussing the recommendations of the panel and the resignation of Mashaba.
Zille said there was “much more behind the scenes than meets the eye” regarding Mshaba’s resignation, which was “high” on the meeting’s agenda. Mashaba had been asked that his resignation should take effect from November 27, but Zille and her backers are understood to want him out of office immediately, particularly in the wake of his comments about the party at the media briefing he called to announce his resignation.
It is not clear at this stage whether Maimane’s decision will spark further resignations from the DA by his supporters, especially in the Gauteng province, who backed his vision for a centrist, non-racial party.
What happens now
Despite Maimane’s departure, there will be no vacuum in the party’s leadership.
According to one DA member privy to deliberations in today’s FedEx meeting, the party’s constitution says the DA’s Federal Chairperson deputises the leader.
That means Athol Trollip will become the official opposition’s acting leader.
He’ll be in the position for up to six weeks. Any longer than that would require the approval of the party’s federal executive committee.
The former Nelson Mandela Mayor is seen as a close ally of Maimane, who had his support during recent elections for chairperson of the party’s federal council.
Trollip lost to Helen Zille this weekend as the party’s federal chairperson, which means his tenure as acting leader could be short-lived.
The resignation of Maimane will trigger fresh internal elections where an early elective conference would have to be called.
The party’s next scheduled conference is only in 2021.
The resignation will also have implications on the party’s parliamentary caucus.
Maimane acted as leader of the official opposition, as well as the leader of the opposition in parliament.
In the past, the DA has split these roles. Athol Trollip and former politician Lindiwe Mazibuko were parliamentary leaders respectively, while Helen Zille was the leader of the party.
Trollip cannot become the parliamentary leader while acting as party leader because he is not a Member of Parliament.
A DA MP tells the M&G that the party’s caucus would have to meet and decide who leads the party in Parliament.