Mouthwatering prospect of a new Zille or Leon party

13 May 2018 - 00:00 By peter bruce

Generally, political parties aren't required to be as united as they always claim to be. The splits in the ANC are, by now, world famous. The UK Conservative and Labour parties are full of hatred. One day the EFF will split into nationalist and Marxist-Leninist factions.
Parties are born out of grievance, not celebration. As Julius Malema might say, the EFF didn't fall out of a lucky packet. But what eats away at parties is success. It has already consumed the ANC. The EFF is still too small to relax.
But the DA isn't and its cracks are on rude display. Its leader, Mmusi Maimane, looks isolated, a black social democrat surrounded by (mainly) white liberals of varying intensities. There is without question a racial genie out of the bottle in the DA.
To even suggest this will invite a flood of denial and attack on social media. But Maimane wants to lead a nonracial party that nevertheless deliberately grows its black leadership. Almost all of the leaders around him insist that colour shouldn't matter and are, in fact, determined to be seen as not pandering to anything so crass as racial targets in the party.I have friends and people I admire on both sides of the DA divide. I fully agreed with Maimane's remarks on Freedom Day last month when he said that "white privilege and black poverty" needed to be confronted by the DA. But his liberal colleagues turned on him and he took to Twitter to defend himself: "I firmly stand by comments I made on Freedom Day," he said. "SA remains deeply unequal, with black SAns locked out of opportunities. We must focus on solving the problem. Liberation of one race is not the enslaving of another - all of us, black & white, must come together to build #1SA4All ."
His comrades were having none of it. "The enemy is looting, cadre deployment, statist policies and outright incompetence. White privilege is a smokescreen. After 20 years in the hospital I don't want my doctor still explaining why my leg is broken. Why is the little progress unravelling? And do I need a 2nd opinion?" tweeted Gwen Ngwenya, a new DA MP and one of its most forceful liberal intellects.
Former DA leader Helen Zille retweeted Ngwenya's remarks to her 1.3-million followers and another influential DA liberal, Michael Cardo, agreed on Twitter. "Absolutely," he responded to Ngwenya, "It's an imported modish mantra, with the ring of truth, that oversimplifies the questions & answers to complex policy issues."
None of this is the end of the world, but let us not pretend there's no rupture about race in the DA. Maimane has struggled to reshape the party's policies and the DA's recent elective conference passed without any significant changes to the racial makeup of its leadership. The only public party support for Maimane's position on "white privilege" has come from black DA mayors or provincial leaders way down the chain of command.There is real tension in the party and Maimane appears to be losing the support of both the staunch liberals and the black caucus, such as it is. I'm reliably told a lobby to form a "truly liberal" party is afoot and looking for up to 10 seats in the next parliament, so it can do to the DA what the EFF is doing to the ANC - trying to draw it back to its roots (liberal in this case). I'm told the idea has been winning new support since the party conference, even from Zille.
I feel for her and Maimane. She stepped aside as party leader for Maimane because she recognised a need for black DA leadership and none of her white male lieutenants were prepared to surrender their positions. They still aren't. But the pressures on her then were profoundly different to what they are on Maimane in 2018.
A year ago, with Jacob Zuma still in office, Maimane was looking at winning more than 30% of the national vote in 2019. Now, as race and the bungled sacking of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille take their toll, he'd be lucky to hold on to the 22.23% the DA won in 2014.
A new and more purely liberal party would only attract funding, insiders to the lobbying suggest, if either Tony Leon or Zille were to lead it. And it has to be done now. Phew! Politics everywhere is shaped by events as much as ideas and for commentators like me, the prospect of Leon or Zille leading a DA breakaway is beyond delicious...

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