Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane has resigned from his post, ending weeks of speculation about his political future, which had escalated since the election of former Western Cape premier Helen Zille as party federal chairperson at the weekend.
Maimane’s political ally, national chairperson Athol Trollip, who was defeated by Zille in the contest for federal chair, has also resigned at the end of a day long meeting of the DA federal council.
Maimane will remain as the party’s parliamentary leader until the end of the year.
He said that he could no longer stay in office because of the “coordinated attempt to undermine my leadership” and ensure that his attempts to transform the DA failed by a “grouping” in the party.
Maimane said their “cowardly” campaign to smear him had placed his family in danger and convinced him that it was time to go.
He added that it had been his vision to change the DA from being seen as a party for minorities to one that was trusted by black people, and which aimed to address the historical imbalances of the past.
However, with the recent events in the party, he said he no longer believed that DA remained the vehicle for the vision.
Maimane said he still believed that the decision to enter coalition governments in Johannesburg and other metros was “correct’’ and that the coalitions had delivered.
Maimane said the DA had doubled its governance footprint in 2016 and had moved from its regional base to establish itself as a national force.
Trollip said he believed that, as party national chairperson, he was jointly responsible for the poor election result and should stand down.
The announcement came after a day-long meeting of the federal executive council (FedEx), with a briefing to announce Maimane’s decision postponed twice because of delays in the discussion.
Zille told the briefing the FedEx would have preferred that the two stay in office till the party held its federal congress to elect a new leadership, which had been recommended by the party’s federal council at the weekend and was likely to be held in April.
Zille said the party was taking legal advice as to what process to follow in appointing an acting leader. Under normal circumstances, Trollip would have done so as national chairperson, but his resignation now complicated the situation.
Maimane said that, while he steps down as the party’s national leader, he will continue to lead its parliamentary caucus.
This saves the parliamentary caucus from having to hold an election as to who will lead it in the legislature.
“I will continue in the role as parliamentary leader until the end of the year, after which the party will go to Congress to elect new leadership. I wish to thank each and every DA member, activist, public representative and staff member of the DA for giving your all and working tirelessly each and every day,” he said.
It’s not the first time the party’s parliamentary leader is not its national leader.
Athol Trollip and Lindiwe Mazibuko have held the parliamentary position while Helen Zille was party leader.
Maimane’s and Trollip’s resignation could be disastrous for the party’s future in governing the country’s metros.
Trollip was expected to retake the mayoral chain in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro after an upcoming vote of no confidence in the United Democratic Movement’s Mongameli Bobani.
Smaller parties in the Johannesburg Metro are still deciding on their next move after the resignation announcement of Herman Mashaba.
Following the outgoing mayor’s announcement, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said it would consult internally as to whether to continue in its cooperative agreement with the DA.
The EFF was always seen as being closer to Mashaba than they are to his party.
There are concerns by some now in the party as to what effect this will have on the 2021 local government election.
Even in the City of Cape Town, where the party won a two-thirds majority in 2016, provincial party leaders are worried about returns in 2021.
Data analysed from the General Election in 2019 showed the party only won 52% of the City of Cape Town.
The party’s post-federal council statement said it wanted to reconnect with voters, an acknowledgement after a slump in votes.
“The Party (must) undertake a campaign to interact with voters to communicate the Party’s core values that are aimed at winning the trust of voters,” its statement said.
It is now Helen Zille’s job to retain calm in the party, and allay fears of citizens in municipalities and the Western Cape where it governs the delivery will not be hampered by weeks of DA infighting.