10/05/2018 11:56 SAST | Updated 10/05/2018 11:56 SAST

Maimane Is Walking The DA Political Tightrope

Like the ANC, the DA will continue to suffer the pain of self-inflicted injuries — and this will be proved in the coming elections.

Gulshan Khan/ AFP/ Getty Images
DA leader Mmusi Maimane speaks at a press conference at the party's federal congress in Pretoria on April 8 2018.


Recent developments in the DA have opened a window for the South African voting public to take a peek into the internal power dynamics in the party. The Patricia de Lille saga; the earlier Helen Zille Twitter scandal; its handling of the Mbali Ntuli issue; and Lindiwe Mazibuko's unceremonious exit.

These events show who is in charge in the DA and whose interests it serves. Recent statements by Mmusi Maimane about white privilege and the subsequent backlash from his own party just proved a point and have not helped his cause. It is clear Maimane is walking a political tightrope in his party; an impossible task. Only time will tell whether he manages a masterstroke.

I would argue that the success of the DA in the past has been fortuitous and by default. The poison in the ANC in the recent past has been meat to the DA — therefore the next elections present a litmus test for the party. With Nkandla out of the equation, it remains to be seen what the DA still has to offer. Like the ANC, the DA will continue to suffer the pain of self-inflicted injuries — and this will be proved in the coming elections.

It will be a miracle if the DA makes any gains, in my view. It might remain the official opposition only by a thread. The splintered and battered ANC will continue to tear itself apart and will only govern with the help of alliances, which will render the country economically and politically unstable.

The EFF has fought all the right battles, both strategically and tactically — an excellent combination of parliamentary, judicial and street fights. It is likely to be rewarded by the electorate — perhaps not to the extent of an outright win, but at least an increase in its share.

With his utterances on Freedom Dy, Maimane broke ranks and DA protocol. His attempt to slip his leash is making his handlers nervous. He is rattling the cage, much to the discomfort of his bosses in the party. At this rate, the DA might run out of black people to send around. Maimane isolated himself with his statements; he was a lone voice who did not resonate with his party — he even needed the support and protection of the ANC president Mr Ramaphosa.

Mr Maimane must toe the party line, or the DA will be in the market for the 'right' black person to lead it.

The DA has come to the end of its sustainability cycle. There are only two ways it can grow its support base for the next election — by increasing the white population, or by making inroads in the black population.

The only way to do this is by adopting policies that appeal to black voters, and Maimane realises this. Unfortunately, his party leaders either do not see this, or choose to bury their heads in the sand. It simply does not serve their interests to fight for a black cause, when maybe it should. For this reason, Mr Maimane must toe the party line — or the DA will be in the market for the "right" black person to lead it.

It is clear the DA won't take kindly to someone that bites the hand that feeds them, that is too independent in thought and in action. The party is more comfortable with someone who strikes the right codes with them and helps to preserve the status quo and maintain the balance of power.

AFP/Getty Images
DA leadership (L-R) deputy chairperson Refiloe Nt'sekhe, president Mmusi Maimane, federal chairperson Atholl Trollip.

I do not envy Mr Maimane, because he is in a difficult position. He must maintain a balance between trying to win an election, in the process saving his political life, and pleasing conservative white interests in his party. He cannot do both, as they are mutually exclusive.

There cannot be any doubt that Helen Zille brought the DA into disrepute with her controversial tweets. What happened to her? Nothing. What did Maimane do? Nothing. Why? Because Helen Zille is too powerful and the federal executive that actually wields the power had a soft spot for her — after all, through her toyi-toyi skills she managed to lure black voters and grow the party in the last elections. I am sure most black voters will be aware of these things.

In my mind, there is no outright favourite to win the next election unless the political landscape shifts radically in the next few months. The next government might, therefore, be the result of some arbitrary political construct called a coalition, which means no clear mandate. Our recent political past has proved that there are no permanent friends in politics — but neither are their permanent enemies, which tends to lead to political uncertainty and instability.

Unfortunately, competition for a leading voice in the political choir leads to an economic discord which is unpalatable to the investment ear. Considering that South Africa is one of many destinations for floating foreign capital seeking a safe destination that guarantees a return on investment, we are likely to reap what we sow in the form of politically expedient rhetoric.

Key investors will no doubt have their ears to the ground over the next few months, as various parties formulate their manifestos and hit the campaign trail.

Come election time, I wonder whether Maimane will be maintaining his balance on the rope or will have fallen by the wayside.