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Mmusi Maimane cracks whip on DA old guard

Long knives in party benches as Maimane ushers in changes

02 June 2019 - 00:04 By THABO MOKONE and APHIWE DEKLERK
DA leader Mmusi Maimane's hand has been strengthened in the party..
DA leader Mmusi Maimane's hand has been strengthened in the party..
Image: Alon Skuy

Embattled DA leader Mmusi Maimane's grip on his party was strengthened this week when his preferred candidate for deputy chief whip in the parliamentary caucus, Jacques Julius, won an internal election.

Several senior DA MPs, who spoke on condition of anonymity because caucus affairs are confidential, said the vote within the party caucus on Thursday was a victory for Maimane in efforts to diversify the racial composition of the party's higher echelons.

Julius, a coloured MP from Gauteng who crossed to the National Assembly from the National Council of Provinces, defeated the incumbent, Mike Waters, for the position.

DA insiders said the result came as a shock to Waters and his backers, who had expected him to cruise to victory after he had served as deputy to chief whip John Steenhuisen since 2014.

But DA sources said Waters no longer had the support of Maimane and his allies, who regarded him as part of a conservative group that was resisting moves to change the public face of the DA.

The insiders said DA MP Phumzile van Damme, a staunch Maimane supporter, was leading a "progressive" group within the party that had campaigned to dislodge Waters.

According to DA sources familiar with the details, the post of deputy chief whip was fiercely contested and Julius won by a margin of only one or two votes.

The DA generally does not publicly release details of its internal elections.

Both Van Damme and Waters declined to discuss the issue.

DA sources said Julius's victory was a boost for Maimane because it meant Waters would lose his seat on the powerful federal council, the DA's highest decision-making body between conferences, to Julius.

It does strengthen his hand because it shows that there are people in the party who support the vision he's laid out

"It does strengthen his hand because it shows that there are people in the party who support the vision he's laid out, who want to continue with the vision of one SA for all," said one MP.

"But fundamentally it shows that representatives of the party are taking on this major fight [over the identity of the DA] and have won the first round."

Meanwhile, DA Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela said on Friday that he had confronted former premier Helen Zille over reports that she now regretted having promoted black leaders in the party.

Madikizela, previously a Zille ally of long standing who is said to have fallen out with the former party leader in recent months, said he went to meet her after being "annoyed" by the reports.

Madikizela's rise in the DA has largely been credited to the support he received from Zille in the past several years.

He said their meeting on Tuesday was not hostile and he had merely sought clarity from Zille.

"When you are busy with so many things and you see a headline that says 'I regret promoting black leaders in the DA' … I was very annoyed [and I] reacted in one of the WhatsApp groups," said Madikizela.

He said he wanted to "ask what exactly she meant".

"[The meeting] was to get the context … it was not for me to say 'shut up'. I was there to get context [and] challenge her on issues I don't agree with," said Madikizela.

Zille downplayed her meeting with Madikizela. "Bongi and I speak regularly about a wide range of things … we speak all the time," she said.

In a column in Rapport last month, Zille said she had thought that "if the party was led by a black person, and backed by a significant majority of elected black provincial leaders, we would finally rid ourselves of this ['white'] tag … I was wrong. The more diverse we became, the more stridently our opponents resorted to the race card. They had nothing else."


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