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25 Oct 2019 00:00
Byemane: DA federal chair Helen Zille and the party’s former leader, Mmusi Maimane, at his resignation briefing. (Delwyn Verasamy)
It’s late afternoon. My lower back and eyes are aching, the result of the better part of the day being spent simultaneously focusing on the news channels on the TV and the laptop screen.
It’s been a long, tedious day, covering the goings on in the Democratic Alliance long distance for the third week in a row.
I should be in Jozi, at the DA offices, waiting for the outcome of the federal executive meeting called to discuss the review panel report into the party’s election performance and Monday’s resignation of the mayor of the centre of the universe, Herman Mashaba.
I’m not, thankfully, so unlike my colleagues camped out at the entrance to Nkululeko House, I’m camped out on the couch, glued to the screens and working the mobile.
It’s way more comfortable and I managed to get some chicken tikka sausages down my neck while working the phones.
Like everybody else, I’m waiting to hear whether Maimane is going to follow Mashaba’s example and do a runner. The people I’ve spoken to in the DA say Maimane’s going to go, at least as leader. They don’t think he’ll go all the way and burn a blue T-shirt at the presser, but he’s going.
I’ve been hustling since about 8am, trying to get confirmation that Maimane — and national chairperson Athol Trollip — are going to resign, despite attempts by Helen Zille and others to get them to stay on until the party holds its elective conference. So far I’ve got confirmation from two senior people in the party. There’s one snag. Neither of them is in the meeting, which is still taking place, so I can’t get a first-hand confirmation.
Zille and Maimane met before the main meeting. Maimane’s office issued a media alert for a 1pm briefing, not long after the one-on-one ended. One plus one generally adds up to two, so all indications are that Maimane’s out. It’s still not enough to go for it, though, so we wait.
The 1pm briefing gets stood down until 3pm. I’m gagging to file. Lester’s busy working the phones from Cape Town. We get enough. Hit send. Maimane becomes Byemane.
We take a breather. There’s an hour till the briefing. Things must be rough in there.
The briefing gets canned again. It may or may not happen in 30 minutes or so. Things must be getting bloody.
After the second postponement, my mind starts wandering.
This is getting weird. These DA cats are always moaning about the ANC being inefficient, coming late to meetings and the like, so one would anticipate that they would stick to schedule.
Perhaps Zille’s gone completely mad. Snapped. Hauled out a Makarov left behind at her pozi by one of the Umkhonto weSizwe operatives she used to harbour, back in the day. Executed Byemane then and there. Two in the chest, one in the head, before spitting on his chest and kicking his lifeless body to make sure he’s dead and not playing possum.
Perhaps Zille’s herded John Steenhuisen and the other democrats into the kitchen at Nkululeko House; barricaded the windows with leftover posters with Muesli’s head on from the May elections. Perhaps Zille’s on the line with the South African Police Service hostage negotiators, threatening to kill a hostage every 30 minutes if they don’t give her a blue light escort to the airport and a non-SAA jet with a white pilot to take her to Cape Town.
Perhaps I’m overreacting.
Perhaps Helen has merely locked Maimane in the toilet, with an instruction to come out only when he’s ready to read the statement she wrote for him three weeks ago when she announced her intention to run as federal chairperson.
The briefing starts. Zille looks like she’s just eaten the heart of her worst enemy’s firstborn child. Maimane looks like he wants to cry.
They confirm what we know. Maimane’s gone. So is Trollip.
Zille’s running the show. This is neither cool, nor unexpected.
Maimane’s vision for a centrist party, committed to historical redress and presenting a nonracial alternative to the ANC, was pretty plausible.
It was bound to alienate the right wing in the party, send them off to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), even if the party lost only 2%, which is what it had in 1994 and way less than it gained under Maimane’s leadership in 2016.
It’s a bit of a pity that Maimane’s gamble that he could bring enough black voters to the DA to make up for the white voters who moved to the FF+ didn’t work.
I’m no fan of the DA, but it was clear that Maimane wanted to break its white ceiling and drag the party into the 21st century.
Zille and company appear to want to do the opposite: turn back the hands of time and take the DA back to before 2015, when it elected Maimane as its first black leader — or to 1652.
Read more from Paddy Harper
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