DA text 'makes Maimane look like a puppet leader'
His supporters charge that the message fuels the narrative that he is controlled by whites in the party
An internal DA SMS on the voter registration week has rattled some in the party arguing that it undermines party leader Mmusi Maimane.
The message, sent to DA public representatives, is co-signed by the chairman of the federal council, James Selfe, who detractors have often argued is the real leader.
“We look forward to seeing all DA public reps out at polling stations this week as we register voters for the 2019. Kind regards, Mmusi & James,” reads the message.
But the message has angered Maimane’s supporters in the party, including some senior white leaders.
His backers argued that messages like this make Maimane appear weak as party leader, and the inclusion of Selfe was “diluting” his blackness.They also argued that the SMS blunder fuels the narrative that Maimane was a puppet leader being controlled by white people in the party.
“Never before a message has ever gone out saying ‘Tony Leon and James’ or ‘Helen Zille and James’,” said an insider.
The insider further argued that blunders like this were committed because the party’s head office was populated by untransformed white people.
“Our CEO is white, our chief operations officer is white, our campaign manager is white, our polling head is white and our head of by-elections is white,” said the insider.
A DA provincial leader argued that Maimane needs a “breather” to be able to think on his own because he was also surrounded by white people who appear to be dictating the direction of the party.
Another party insider said Maimane needed to be careful because blunders like this may weaken him, even in the party.He cited two other cases – the Zille and the Patricia de Lille disciplinary matters – where Maimane came out strongly, suggesting the party may take action, only for the party to appear to be backtracking.
Maimane could not be reached for comment and he had not replied to an SMS.
'No attempt to undermine'
Selfe said he thought the message was appropriate at the time and that he thought Maimane had also signed it off.
“It was certainly not in any attempt to undermine or demean the leader ... the appropriateness of the message coming with my signature as well lies in the fact that I deal, among other things, with the evaluation of public representatives,” said Selfe
He said the implication would have been that the participation in the weekend campaign would be an important feature of the public representatives’ evaluation.
DA CEO Paul Boughey said the SMS in question was sent to DA public representatives to encourage them.
“It is completely normal practice for a message of this kind to come from the leader of the party, and from James Selfe, who is in charge of performance management of DA public representatives. Any suggestion to the contrary can only be attributed to this being congress season,” said Boughey.
Fear among the 'old guard'
The SMS debacle comes amid intense internal debate in the party about the future of the DA.
Insiders say the upcoming contest between Nelson Mandela Bay Metro mayor Athol Trollip and Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga was the culmination of that debate.
“If the DA was a person, you would say its older self is fighting with the person it wants to become in the future,” said a DA insider.The insider said people supporting rallying behind Trollip were mainly the so-called old guard who fear losing their positions to a new crop of leaders, represented by Msimanga, who are mainly young and black.
Trollip declined to comment on the matter on Friday.
Msimanga said leaders in the party had different things in the party and would live to appeal to all demographics and ages in the party.
“When you start leading in the party, you need everybody to rally behind you ... not [for people] to say ‘he is not leading me, he is leading this group or that group’; then you get factions [and] people who question if the party is representing them,” said Msimanga.
DA spokesperson Refiloe Nt'sekhe said the DA “would not be into internal campaigns and tension supposedly caused by an internal SMS”.