DA report ‘clears’ youth leader Luyolo Mphithi of Schweizer-Reneke race furore
Investigation reportedly found that poor communication and campaign strategy brought about the election loss
The DA on Sunday remained mum on the outcome of its internal investigation into the party's role in the racial furore that erupted in Schweizer-Reneke, but said it will return to the small North West town to give feedback to the community.
Business Day, however, understands from senior sources that Luyolo Mphithi, the DA youth leader at the heart of the furore, has been cleared in the report and that blame for the election loss has been shifted to the party’s communication and campaign strategy.
The party’s federal executive committee met over the weekend and unanimously accepted the report compiled by the party’s deputy federal chair, Refiloe Nt’sekhe, and Dirk Smit, the speaker of the Cape Town city metro.
The DA’s reaction to a picture that purportedly showed black children and white children separated by race at a school took place before the facts of the situation were established.
As a result, the DA was punished heavily at the polls by white Afrikaans voters in response to the incident, which saw a teacher suspended by North West education MEC Sello Lehari — a decision that was later overturned by the labour court in Johannesburg.
The incident in Schweizer-Reneke was said to have been the last straw for white Afrikaans voters countrywide, and resulted in the DA losing votes to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+). The FF+ grew its electoral support significantly and has continued to eat into DA votes in by-elections.
The most recent by-election defeat the DA suffered was about two weeks ago — in Schweizer-Reneke, where the party lost a ward to the FF+.
The sentiment was that the voters in the town had still not forgiven the party.
It is unclear who will be held responsible for the bungle, as the party no longer has the same leadership it had in the run-up to the elections when the saga played itself out.
Mmusi Maimane is no longer party leader and Paul Boughey, former CEO, and Jonathan Moakes, former campaign manager, have all resigned in the wake of the election. Athol Trollip, former chair of the party, also resigned from his position in the party’s top leadership. Siviwe Gwarube, the party’s former communications director at the time, is also no longer in the post.
Asked to comment on the report and Mphithi having been cleared, Helen Zille, chair of the DA’s federal council, was adamant that Business Day did not know the whole truth. “A partial truth can often be more damaging than a deliberate lie. The only fact on the table here is that we are going to Schweizer-Reneke to report fully and in detail to the interested and affected parties there,” Zille said.
She said in a statement after the meeting that the federal executive had received the report on Saturday that looked at the DA’s “mishandling of responses to social media posts relating to the first day of school at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke in January 2019”.
“The FedEx also resolved that our primary accountability is to the community of Schweizer-Reneke and we will send a delegation to the town to report on the findings and the proposed way forward before making a public statement,” Zille said.