It was a mistake to keep Zille - Mmusi Maimane
Opposition leader draws line in sand against Western Cape premier
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has admitted for the first time to difficulties in his relationship with Western Cape premier Helen Zille, saying she should have been removed from decision-making structures after she stepped down as party leader in May 2015.
Maimane said Zille, who enthusiastically backed him as her successor, would not return to any DA government positions after her term as premier ended next year.
Maimane said it was "untenable to keep your former leader and your current leader ... in the same structures, or in the same functions", and Zille should have been given a "different role".
"Being a party leader is like being a pilot, flying through turbulent waters. The last thing you need is the former pilot sitting in the jump seat trying to tell you what to do," he said.
In a frank interview with the Sunday Times this week, Maimane spoke openly for the first time about the party's internal battles, and admitted some of the DA's mistakes, including the management of issues with Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.He also spoke of his difficulties in getting the party to accept a new "diversity clause" intended to make it more representative of all South Africans.
The Sunday Times has learnt that the DA's internal polling has revealed disillusionment in its ranks at the De Lille and Zille conflicts.
Zille said yesterday that she and Maimane played "very different roles in the party".
She said in principle there was "no problem with the current and former leader serving together in party structures, as long as a former leader recognises his/her new role. For a while after I became leader, I did feel a bit uncomfortable trying to lead a caucus of which Tony [Leon] was a member, so I know how it feels."
In response to Maimane saying she should have been given a "different role" after she stepped down, Zille said: "I have a mandate and a duty to serve the citizens of the Western Cape in the elected position of premier."
She confirmed she would not return as premier after elections next year as there was a constitutional limitation of two five-year terms.
"I am considering a few options of what to do after that. It is too early to say definitively. Whatever I do, I want to help build nonracialism and constitutionalism in South Africa," said Zille.
Maimane also came out fighting against critics of his leadership of South Africa's biggest opposition party, swatting away claims that a powerful white lobby was in charge behind the scenes and asserting that he would pursue his transformation agenda despite a fightback from within.
Maimane has faced criticism that he is merely a puppet for Zille, and that the party is run by powerful veteran white figures, among them James Selfe, chairman of the party's federal executive.
"I feel that as the organisation is changing, people who have historically held power think they must rise up. At some level, I welcome them challenging it because it tells you that change is actually taking place," said Maimane. "You can't leave the status quo. The organisation must change if it is to change society."
Maimane's proposal for more diversity in the DA ranks was watered down after a lobby led by MPs Michael Cardo and Gavin Davis opposed it at the DA's federal congress in April. There are also perceptions that power is being shifted to his subordinates, such as MPs John Steenhuisen and Natasha Mazzone."I think we give people by virtue of the colour of their skins too much power ... Maybe it comes from our own history. If there is a white person in the room, we think that's the person in charge," said Maimane.
"To purport that James is someone with more power than me is a figment of the imagination," he said.
He said Selfe was in charge of managing party election lists and disciplinary processes, which gave a false impression that he had a lot of power.
Selfe had been supportive of his transformation vision, said Maimane.
"When MPs have resigned, they have almost invariably been replaced by black South Africans."
But Maimane confirmed that he faced internal opposition to his plans to encourage more racial diversity in the DA.
"There were many who opposed the clause on diversity. It's in our constitution. There were many who opposed us forming coalition governments with the EFF. We are in government and we are moving on. So let people challenge, that's OK."
Maimane said the DA had dragged out the De Lille matter for too long, creating the impression that it was "scrambling around" to get rid of her. He said the SMS that De Lille allegedly sent to influence the appointment of Cape Town's city manager was in violation of the Public Finance Management Act and, along with the fact that she lost the confidence of her caucus, was sufficient reason to remove her.However, the party's systems and processes failed because they were written for an organisation that was much smaller.
"How is it that the party didn't have a mechanism to recall people we send to government? So it was as if we were rewriting a recall clause for an individual," he said.
A party insider said the DA now faced a "conundrum" as even if the leadership wanted to settle matters with De Lille, there were concerns about a backlash from the caucus in Cape Town. This week, the caucus stripped De Lille of her executive powers and some DA councillors turned their backs on her while she was addressing the council.
Maimane said the problems that arose with Zille after she stepped down as the leader in May 2015 were not anticipated.
"She still runs the best government in provinces, comparatively to others. You then had to take a decision whether you wanted your best government to lose a very competent leader. I think what we should've done is define better what her role was going to be in the organisation," said Maimane.
He said he took Zille on several times over her controversial tweets.
"I don't share Helen Zille's views on colonialism... When these matters arose, I had opportunity to call her up and say: 'Listen, this is unacceptable. This is not going to happen.' What happens in public does not take cognisance of what happens in the background. In the background I had to be deliberate and intentional about saying this is how this is going to work."
He said he held Zille accountable for her work in government, not just her tweets.
Maimane said he also laid down the law when he took over the management of the Western Cape water crisis.
"I had to say there is only one leader in the DA, that's the direction we take and that's how it is."He disputed that Zille had groomed him and therefore he was indebted to her.
"I can recall in the earlier days, people would say to me: 'Do you meet with her every week? Does she mentor you?' I'd be like, 'What rubbish is that? How patronising.' I hardly saw Zille, hardly ever saw her. She had other interests, she was busy with other things."
Maimane dismissed a report that there could be a liberal breakaway from the DA.
"If three people get together in a bar to discuss an idea, that does not resemble a split.
"If the Institute for Race Relations thinks that there should be liberal party, that's their view. I am championing a vision of an African liberal agenda and it was unanimously adopted at congress by over 2500 delegates," said Maimane.
"There is a prejudicial view ... an assumption that liberalism exists only as a competence of one race. I think that is poor analysis.
"When you lead an organisation, your job as the leader is to take people where they would not naturally have wanted to go," said Maimane.While many believe the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader and South Africa's president was bad news for the DA, Maimane said he believed the opposite.
"I think actually we can stop talking about an individual and start talking about his [Ramaphosa's] policies."
He said he believed people were too generous in their assessment of Ramaphosa and tended to forget that he was in the ANC national executive committee through the country's troubled times.
"There is this angelic view of Ramaphosa as if he landed from Mars in February.
"What kind of deputy president was he that he says he didn't know how bad state capture was? I find that unbelievable.
"I don't share the ANC's vision. If I did, let's collapse the DA into the ANC. If anything, the ANC shares the EFF's vision."