Helen Zille, who led the DA to its biggest gains in support, piled the pressure on her successor Mmusi Maimane, criticising his decision to lodge a complaint against President Cyril Ramaphosa with a public protector that the party also says is not fit for office.

Maimane, who in May led the DA to its first loss of support in an election campaign, has come under fire for his complaint against Ramaphosa, which may have grave consequences for his presidency and hand power to ANC elements loyal to the scandal-hit former leader Jacob Zuma. At the same time the party has called Busisiwe Mkhwebane incompetent and called for her removal from office.  

The difference in opinion between the current and former DA leaders comes at a time when the party is under fire after a poor election showing that led to the review of its organisational structures and processes in more than a decade.

Calls for Mkhwebane’s removal intensified this week after the constitutional court upheld a punitive and personal costs order against her and said she had been dishonest.

Just last week, Maimane came out in strong support of Mkhwebane’s finding, which the president is challenging, that Ramaphosa “deliberately” misled parliament about a R500,000 donation he received from Gavin Watson, the CEO of the corruption-accused Bosasa group.

Mkhwebane, who is accused by her detractors of being used in an ANC factional battle to weaken Ramaphosa, attracted more controversy on Thursday by launching a probe on the appointment of SA Revenue Service commissioner Edward Kieswetter.

Zille, the former Western Cape premier, who herself has attracted controversy with tweets on the benefits of colonialism and alleged black privilege, told about 200 people at the Cape Town Press Club that the DA could not have it both ways even though she understood the dilemma the party was in.

The DA has submitted a motion to the National Assembly for Mkhwebane to be removed on the grounds that she is not fit and proper to hold her position.

Maimane told Business Day that the DA had no choice but to lodge a complaint against Ramaphosa, who has questions to answer regarding the donation from Bosasa.

It would be “unprincipled” to not hold officials accountable just because you do not like the incumbent in a chapter nine institution, he said. 

“Democracy requires us to give someone a mandate and then to build institutions to protect that mandate because human beings are fallible. Our job is to build institutional capacity that protects us against abuses of power,” the DA leader said. 

Maimane said those who accused him of creating a constitutional crisis were “frankly mad”.

“They are trying to create an impression that no we must not look after Ramaphosa. Why? Because they say you will bring us [deputy president David] Mabuza? Rubbish, the ANC will bring you Mabuza, as it brought you Ramaphosa,” he said. 

“So for me we have to hold them accountable, otherwise you make the fatal mistake which is to say that we become subjective to how we hold people accountable. Which means that of course then I must follow the rule of man and not the rule of law.”