Zille Watch - Opinion

Zille-deal: Copout or game changer?

Maimane & Zille

The battle in the Democratic Alliance is far from over. How the party manages the situation over the next few months will be crucial for the main opposition’s future.

The deal that have been struck between Western Cape (WC) Premier Helen Zille and Mmusi Maimane, who succeeded her as DA leader, did not, and will not, immediately restore full unity in the party. At best, it is a compromise that all sides involved in the battle of the last few months, can live with.

But, it did create something of a breather and, an opportunity for the party to regroup. It might even come out of this tense episode for the better.

However, there are some realities that the party must accept, and plan to manage going forward.

First up, the party must expect and plan to handle/manage the reality that its public representatives and leaders, especially Zille and Maimane. will be subjected to – even extreme – provocation in the immediate future. That much was immediately clear from the reaction to the events by the ANC.

One of the first challenges is going to be the introduction of a motion of no- confidence in Premier Zille by the ANC in the WC legislative assembly. The first impression created was that the DA is attempting to kick this ball up-field. That will not do.

Considering what is happening in the national parliament surrounding President Jacob Zuma, such a debate cannot be avoided without the DA being accused of double standards.

Handled pro-actively it can, however, also be an opportunity to turn the tables on the ANC. At least the DA, unlike what is the case with Mr Zuma, has the quality of the Zille-administration to boast about, its leader acted when things went wrong, and the party can prove it is willing to subject itself to a democratic process.

First prize would still have been, as we wrote in May, for Ms Zille to have retired earlier. That, however did not happen.

Except maybe for the occasion when he jumped the gun on the party’s formal processes, Mr Maimane deserves kudus for how he handled the situation that was developing into a no-win one. 

Responsibility of historical proportions

Being, at this stage in the development of our young democracy, the only party that to some extent reflect the diversity of the population, the DA has a huge responsibility of historical proportions – to proof that “unity in diversity” is indeed possible and need not be just a dream.

But it also comes with huge challenges.

During recent weeks, the DA was confronted with difficult choices – to go the legal/litigation route regarding Ms Zille’s position, or finding a political/negotiated solution.

Fortunately, the latter was chosen, not only giving all parties concerned an opportunity to save face, but also laying the foundations for a better future.

Hopefully Ms Zille will soon (maybe during the anticipated no-confidence debate) announce her retirement from politics at the end of her present term in 2019. But nevertheless, Zille’s final two years on the political scene has dawned and need to be carefully managed.

It is important that Zille treats the next two years as a period of phasing herself out – the danger is that she might be tempted to use it as a platform for a comeback. To our mind, that would be a huge mistake and could only end in disaster for both her and the party.

The DA should consider putting in place proper support structures to manage the communications by all its public functionaries. The recent experience can still be turned into a net positive for the party.

Members and future members should always be considered in the process – and let’s say it as it is: all the colours of the rainbow nation needs to be considered in the process.

A situation like the one that developed since Ms Zille’s tweets on colonialism in March, should never again be allowed to linger so long.

A core challenge that the DA, and especially some of its founding members face, is that for the party to be truly successful in context of the South African reality, it must come to terms with the fact that the demographic profile of the party will have to change. In short, the vast majority of its members and supporters will have to be black.

The white population is an important voters’ block, but they will have to be willing to become part of a greater majority based on shared values, principles, and policy choices. The only other choice is to join the escapist group on right wing in the white community which, in the long run, could only lead to racial confrontation


The ANC spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, claimed the DA’s compromise was proof Maimane is not in charge, describing it as “an unprincipled, hypocritical and meaningless token offered to what is hoped is a gullible public and once again unmasks the true character of the DA as a racist party, constituted of unrepentant and unreformed bigots led by a caretaker leader with no real power.”

That reaction was to be expected, however, the DA can also market it as a strength – a willingness to strike compromises instead of going for “winner takes all, or zero sum, type confrontations.

The DA should to make unity in diversity a living reality, and it can be done – if we can do it on the sport fields of the world, we can do it on the playing field of politics, where the next score board will come up in 2019.

by Piet Coetzer

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