The current crisis in the Democratic Alliance (DA) over the tweets former leader Helen Zille made about colonialism looks more like a script from a cheap Chinese movie of yore. In those movies the protégé would be taken by a master to be trained in the basics of karate and would, towards the end of the film, be the one to beat the master at his game.
We all know that Mmusi Maimane is the protégé of Helen Zille, who took him under her wing after he lost the race to be Mayor of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality to Parks Tau (who in turn lost to Herman Mashaba in 2016) in the 2011 local government elections.
Maimane was still new to the party but he showed tremendous potential as a possible future leader for a party which had a dearth of credible black leaders.
It was Zille’s aim (whether it was overtly or covertly stated is another matter) to change the image of the party as a whites-only party catering for English-speaking South Africans to a party that represents all South Africans. The brief dalliance (which sadly failed) with the former founder and leader of Agang SA, Dr Mamphele Ramphele, attests to that.
In ascending to the leadership of the party, the then-young Maimane was to a certain extent proof that Zille’s project was bearing fruit, notwithstanding the fact that the protégé was still relatively new to the party.
The discipline of sociology teaches that there are intended and unintended consequences for any action taken. It might never have occurred to Zille that Maimane would upset the apple cart (i.e. changing the DA as it was and is). Maimane seems to be determined to not just be a black face in a predominantly white liberal party, but to turn the DA into a credible and viable alternative to the ruling African National Congress. It seems that his intention is to ensure that the party gets into power in 2019 as the ruling party seems to be on the verge of losing its majority.
His reaction to the Zille Twitter saga confirms my assertion. He was quick (though subsequently exposed as having erred on the technicalities of the party’s constitution) to announce that the DA had ‘suspended’ Helen Zille.
The Zille saga has two possibilities: the first being that it will either make or break Maimane and the second being that it may have deleterious consequences for the party. If Zille is to be suspended, Maimane would have stamped his authority and proven to all and sundry that he is not tied by the apron strings of his erstwhile mentor, and set the party on a new direction.
The DA is in the centre of the SA political spectrum and on occasions it looks as if it is on the right of centre. Maimane may take it to left of centre and in the process bring in more of the black vote.
Still, if Zille goes (which is not beyond the realm of possibility) it may create tensions within the party from her supporters and this may in the long run cause a split.
For the sake of the party, which has consistently projected itself as a paragon of virtue, Maimane needs to stamp his authority and bite the bullet.
Author: Lolonga Tali lives King Williamstown and occasionally contributes to the Daily Dispatch. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education (English & History), a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism (Rhodes University) and a Master of Philosophy in South African Politics & Political Economy (NMMU). He works at the Amathole Museum in King Williamstown.