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Holding office without holding real power in precarious arrangements with the EFF is dangerous ahead of a general election next year. More important for Maimane is to settle the increasingly nasty policy debate in the DA about empowerment. Should it support overt black empowerment or adopt race-neutral economic policies that would benefit black people the most anyway, simply because they are in the majority?

Groucho Marx said that "politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies". As a result, Athol Trollip is no longer mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay. Solly Msimanga just held on to Tshwane on Thursday. Of the DA mayors who won metropolitan office after the 2016 local government elections, including Cape Town, only the mayor of Johannesburg is safe - and even there the reason might not be pretty. At the middle of all of this is a decent man, Mmusi Maimane, the DA leader. Those elections were a triumph for him. Jacob Zuma had wrenched the last shreds of credibility from the ANC and voters stayed away. The result was hung councils everywhere and, with the connivance of the EFF, the DA was able to take office in all of SA's really big cities other than Durban. Yes, it was messy, but coalitions, formal or otherwise, were the future, no? Maimane had a curious faith in Julius Malema, the EFF leader. Malema, Maimane felt,...

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