Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

DA leader Mmusi Maimane is trying to create a myth that he is transforming the party by championing diversity in its ranks of public representatives. This is disingenuous. My experience in the party is one of constant efforts to appeal to, and actively recruit, people of colour into the ranks and leadership positions.

The DA became SA’s most demographically representative political party long before Maimane became a member or its leader. The drive to get most South Africans to actively support and work towards the DA’s realisation of a federal democratic government based on liberal values has never stopped.

My view, having worked under the leadership of Helen Zille, Athol Trollip and Lindiwe Mazibuko, is that Maimane is taking the party backwards into racial groupings rather than continuing the process of moving towards the demographic inclusion that is essential for national unity and prosperity.

At the February 2019 federal council meeting he passionately forbade discussion on whether race should be dropped as a proxy for disadvantage within the context of broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) in favour of a nonracial model. He reminded the council that the DA and its predecessors had used race as a proxy for disadvantage and had proposed a qualified franchise. He declined to acknowledge that it was time to move away from racial classifications and that the DA dropped the qualifying franchise notion decades ago.

In an impassioned speech he said those who disagreed with his decision that race-based BBBEE would stay should “get out or shut up and get to work winning the election”. For this the majority of federal council — the body that holds party leadership to account —  to their everlasting shame gave him a standing ovation.

As the general election results show, the DA lost support and seats. Within the membership there has been much finger-pointing, but hopefully the probe into what went wrong, led by plain-speaking former DA CEO and election campaign manager Ryan Coetzee, will be suitably frank about what needs to be done.

The “war talk” media campaign launched by Maimane and his lieutenants against those using internal processes to hold the leadership to account seems to be an attempt to intimidate the membership from robustly discussing the party's future based on the outcome of Coetzee’s report.

Or is it a pre-emptive strike to position Maimane as a victim of white racists, rather than being held to account for his possible leadership failures by committed liberal democrats who have spent much of their lives fighting to change SA’s race-based governance?

Marian Shinn, Retired DA MP