Many great people who preceded Mmusi Maimane in the DA leadership have been bitten by Helen Zille and others in the party, the writer says. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
Many great people who preceded Mmusi Maimane in the DA leadership have been bitten by Helen Zille and others in the party, the writer says. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

There has been much indignant shouting and breast-beating over the resignation of Mmusi Maimane as DA leader. If you were an alien in SA last week you would have thought Maimane was a hero among black South Africans.

Much of the commentary on Maimane has come from black people who often called Maimane horrendous names on social media and to his face, likening him to a betrayer of the black race. The EFF leader Julius Malema, for example, offered Maimane a stiff drink, saying he is a good human being. This is the same person who, in June 2014, referred to Maimane as a “tea boy” and a “house nigger”.

In this narrative of indignation Maimane is painted as a victim of racism, a hapless actor in his own political demise. This is not just wrong and ill-informed but it borders on racism itself.

Maimane is one of the most decent people you will ever meet, but he is no victim and it is an insult to him to paint him as one.

Many great people who had preceded him in the DA leadership had been bitten by Helen Zille and others in the DA. Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mamphela Ramphele and others took a bite of the DA apple, only to find a worm inside. Maimane rushed into the lion’s den with his eyes wide open. He is a volunteer, not a victim.

Strange way

Much has also been made of the fact that the review panel report that sunk Maimane was written by three white men. People should cast their lazy eyes over that report. The first line reads as follows: “In the wake of the general election, Mmusi Maimane asked Ryan Coetzee to chair an independent review into the party’s election performance and broader circumstances. Mmusi also asked Tony Leon and Michiel le Roux to join Ryan and together they formed the panel that conducted the review.”

If Maimane was worried about or committed to proper racial representation on this committee then he had a very strange way of showing it.

He could have asked Coetzee to turn to so many other black DA leaders who could have assisted that committee. Where was Joe Seremane? Or Lindiwe Mazibuko? Or an independent player? Why not be brave and ask Joel Netshitenzhe, an ANC member and possibly SA’s greatest living intellectual and democrat?

Maimane came into the DA leadership after it had powered from 16.6% of the vote in 2009 to 22.2% in 2014. This year it attracted 470,000 fewer votes than it did in 2014 and slumped to 20.7%. It lost official opposition status in two provinces. The DA’s own figures show that a mere 4% of black voters cast their votes for the party in this year’s elections compared with 3.2% in 2014.

Those who have pushed Maimane out in the manner that they did have failed to examine themselves and their party to the level that would bring clarity

Who should take responsibility for the fact that the DA has, this year, reversed 25 years of solid growth from a mere 1.7% of the vote in 1994? Or are we now saying black leaders such as Maimane should be immune from consequence management? I can think of nothing more racist. Maimane ran with the hares and hunted with the hounds. He can’t have his cake and eat it. He failed. He had to go.

It does not mean that the manner of Maimane’s departure will not have major consequences for the DA.

For true renewal and rejuvenation to take place in any endeavour or entity, one needs to take a clear-eyed review of the present. One must see oneself, or one’s organisation, as one truly is. It is a warts-and-all process. It hurts. It can embarrass you, the examiner, and it can hurt and embarrass those around you. It is, however, vital. You must see yourself as you truly are.

Those who have pushed Maimane out in the manner that they did have failed to examine themselves and their party to the level that would bring clarity. They do not understand themselves or their country. Their victory over Maimane is pyrrhic. They are now left with a party that is seen by the base from which it is supposed to grow — the black majority — as intrinsically racist and untransformable.

This is because of their actions outside and beyond Maimane’s departure. It includes Helen Zille’s arrogant and racist colonialism tweets. These people are those who are bemoaning the Freedom Front Plus’s cannibalisation of their voter base. Black voters see this. They remember this. They will not vote for the DA in 2021 and in 2024.

The DA under Zille will increasingly become like the organisations it is trying to mimic. It will become the Institute of Race Relations: strident, partisan and narrow-minded. It will become like AfriForum, engaged in lawfare for narrow and racist ends. It will become the Freedom Front, dedicated to the cause of whites and Afrikaners only.

In post-1994 SA the DA is no longer relevant. That conversation is over.

Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Helen Suzman are turning in their graves.

This article was first published by Times Select.