The DA is once again in the spotlight over its views on race, as senior members have reportedly taken on leader Mmusi Maimane for his views on white privilege. City Press reported on Sunday that Maimane is in trouble with some senior members for his use of the term, who reportedly say it could cost them votes from white people in 2019.
But on Sunday, DA MP Natasha Mazzone stole the show with her controversial tweets about the issue. Meanwhile, Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba has defended Maimane, while other DA members argue his use of race is polarising.
According to City Press, Maimane is in trouble after telling people at a Freedom Day rally in Soshanguve that "white privilege and black poverty" must be tackled. At a Parliamentary caucus meeting last Thursday, three MPs, Mazzone, chief whip John Steenhuisen and his deputy Mike Waters reportedly took Maimane to task over his comments.
MP Ghaleb Cachalia reportedly agreed with the three, while an anonymous MP sympathetic to Maimane reportedly said the issue was really about the leader's desire to see more black members included in election lists for next year's election.
The MP reportedly said, "So now they start this argument, which is neither here nor there. It is basically a few people. It seemed very coordinated, by a few people who are feeling very insecure. Change is coming and they just can't stop it."
This comes off of the back of the party's federal congress, held in early April, when Maimane was reelected as the party's leader. The congress saw a heated debate in the party over its so-called diversity clause, and whether or not the party was in favour of racial quotas. Ultimately, the DA's constitution was amended to say it was not in favour of quotas, but that it will "take action" to ensure diversity in its ranks "without recourse to rigid formulae or quotas".
On Sunday morning, Maimane defended his views on Twitter and said he would not "pander to the racists":
Dumelang. I will continue to fight for a fair, free, diverse South Africa that offers opportunities for all. Our nation inherited a divided country on race, this gov has not done enough to bring about the change we need for all to prosper. Together we can change this. #1SA4All— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) May 6, 2018
The racists from all backgrounds will seek to https://t.co/s3dHlvLWuE still remains deeply unequal on the basis of race.I won't pander to the racists, will work with All to ensure that SA belongs to all who live in it Black&White.Let's dismantle our yesterday& build our tomorrow— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) May 6, 2018
I firmly stand by comments I made on Freedom Day. SA remains deeply unequal, with black SAns locked out of opportunities. We must focus on solving the problem. Liberation of one race is not the enslaving of another - all of us, black & white, must come together to build #1SA4All— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) May 6, 2018
He was backed by DA MP Phumzile Van Damme:
Whenever I despair about the future of South African I look to the young leaders coming up in our ranks & my heart is filled with hope. They are smart, talented, hard-working & passionate about building a better SA. The future is indeed in good hands. 👏🏾— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) May 5, 2018
But it was a series of tweets by Mazzone on Sunday that ultimately caused the most controversy. Attempting to explain her views on "white privilege", Mazzone appeared to compare the history of her Italian immigrant father to black people who were oppressed under apartheid.
My father arrived from Naples in Italy, he was dark and could not speak English or Afrikaans, but he was a great chef. He built himself up from nothing to make a good life for his family. I HONOUR and thank my father.— Natasha Mazzone MP (@Natasha9Mazzone) May 6, 2018
I use myself as the example, I was extremely privileged. My father however, arrived here with NOTHING, was NOT privileged. My job is to ensure that we create an equal South Africa where we ALL have the same opportunities! We mustn't be scared to talk about these things.— Natasha Mazzone MP (@Natasha9Mazzone) May 6, 2018
My dad worked every hour he could. He learnt to speak English, I went to the Glen High school (government school) in Pretoria. I am forever in awe of my father and thank him everyday for what he did for me!— Natasha Mazzone MP (@Natasha9Mazzone) May 6, 2018
Despite apparently disagreeing with Maimane, she later tweeted that she supported him "100%".
Let me make one thing VERY clear. Mmusi Maimane is my Leader. He has my support 100%. We work as a party for ALL South Africans. We have discussions and debates BECAUSE we believe in building a society where ALL South Africans have equal opportunities. We are UNITED for ALL SA!— Natasha Mazzone MP (@Natasha9Mazzone) May 6, 2018
Mazzone's tweet was heavily criticised, for what many people said showed she lacked understanding of what "white privilege" means".
The underbreath of this tweet is that Mazzone's father was dark and made it in life with nothing. Why haven't the rest of the dark people made it. Why haven't the other dark people made themselves up for their children. It's incredible. https://t.co/OjlyqmaWuy— xhanti (@XhantiPayi) May 6, 2018
For white people that get touched about the slightest mention of white privilege: It goes beyond looking or being racially white. You can be non-white but still imbue the privileges that whiteness affords.— Abdul Hamid Carrim (@baymath) May 6, 2018
She thought she could use the word 'dark' and that shatters privilege. 🙄 https://t.co/BiYqv4UOC3
Painful that this has to be pointed out and so frequently. It's painful https://t.co/0MBDf5srGV— AndrewIhsaanGasnolar (@Gasnolar) May 6, 2018
In a piece published by News24 on Sunday afternoon, Mashaba defended Maimane, and questioned the motives of those who disagreed with him on the issue of "white privilege".
"Maimane's remarks espouse neither a departure from the dream of the rainbow nation nor the party's commitment to redressing the legacy of our past. So the question emerges, who do these critics of Maimane represent?
Not the vast majority of people in our country, who across the racial identities, by and large understand that the legacy of our past has to be redressed. To get to the bottom of this question one has to look further into the 'reasons' for their reaction. When one does this, one finds this conservative, small-minded thinking cited in the article as the fear surrounding a perceived haemorrhaging of votes from the traditional base," wrote Mashaba.
He said, "So why then, under the leadership of Maimane, do some choose to pretend like this is some radical new direction that is being announced for the very first time? It can only be about the kind of self-interest that permeates politics at the time when politicians need to re-apply for their jobs.
I think it is time that the silent majority of our party speaks up, rather than allowing a small group to do so in their name, with sentiments that do not embody their values for our country."'