Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ALON SKUY
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ALON SKUY

DA leader Mmusi Maimane admitted that he was wrong to accuse five Cape Town councillors who had resigned in support of Patricia de Lille of corruption, and issued an embarrassing apology.

Cape Town mayor De Lille was due to step down on Wednesday, after reaching an agreement with the DA that ended months of acrimony involving accusations of corruption against the mayor, and legal battles with the party.

The DA has battled to get it together since the De Lille matter exploded in December 2017 and has failed to contain the fallout. It has also struggled to contain divisions over its stance on BEE, diversity and the selection of premier candidates.

With less than a year before the elections, the spats threaten to derail its ambitions to reduce the ANC’s majority nationally and win Gauteng, where it managed a credible 30.78% share of the vote in 2014, while the ANC registered 53.59%.

The DA’s honeymoon with Julius Malema’s EFF also ended abruptly after its mayor in Nelson Mandela Bay, Athol Trollip, was removed and its Tshwane mayor and Gauteng premier candidate, Solly Msimanga, came under fire over the conduct of his city manager, surviving on a technicality after an ANC and EFF attempt to remove him.

Maimane’s stance in a lawyer’s letter and in his newsletter sent to party members marks an enormous climbdown from a statement that the five were fingered as complicit in corruption in a forensic report by law firm Bowmans.

The five councillors, who support De Lille, resigned last week, accusing the DA of racism. They wrote to Maimane demanding an apology and the retraction of his allegations. Maimane conceded that he was wrong and said that “after further study” of the Bowmans report it became clear that the five are not implicated.

But at a memorial service for Johannesburg councillor Jerry Mabe in Soweto on Monday, Maimane once again rounded on the group, saying the “defenders and hiders of corruption” resort to "victimhood" by accusing the DA of racism.

An Afrobarometer Survey released on Tuesday shows the DA in a tie with the EFF nationally at 11%. But the party will be concerned at the number of undecided voters, including in its Western Cape stronghold, where 39% of potential voters said they are either undecided or refused to disclose which party they will support.