A think tank shouldn't try to influence internal politics – Maimane

DA leader says IRR is attempting to sway country's second largest party in a direction at odds with vision of 'building a SA for all'

A think tank shouldn't try to influence internal politics - Maimane on IRR's endorsement of Winde

3 October 2019

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has lambasted some members of his party for turning to external platforms after failing to win internal debates.

He believes this is an attempt to sway the country's second largest party in a direction at odds with his own vision of "building a South Africa for all".

He made these comments in an interview with News24 on Wednesday, following an opinion piece by Institute of Race Relations (IRR) analyst and writer Hermann Pretorius.

In it, Pretorius called on Maimane to resign and suggested that Western Cape Premier Alan Winde was a more suitable candidate to take the party forward.

A tweet punting the opinion piece read: "The seeds of the DA's recovery has been planted by a white man in the Western Cape, Alan Winde should be the new leader of the DA (sic)."

It has irked numerous party leaders who hit out at the IRR via social media and called for the organisation to stay out of the DA's internal issues.

The party, through chief whip John Steenhuisen, rejected with contempt what he described as "naked opportunism".

Winde also distanced himself from the piece and even declared that he had no interest in contesting Maimane for the position.

Maimane himself weighed in on the article: "The Institute of Race Relations has pronounced itself from what it feels the DA must do and therefore if the Institute of Race Relations is going to be used to try and create external pressure on the DA, that is certainly something cheap."

"I think that to use a think tank to try and influence internal politics actually contradicts the integrity of the think tank," he said.

Maimane said the IRR's actions, particularly highlighting Winde's race, seemed regressive in his eyes and described it as an antithesis to what he was trying to do – building a broad, non-racial organisation.

"I think it's quite extraordinary that a think tank would issue a candidate for a political party and actually denote the race of that candidate," he said.

Some who are close to Maimane don't believe Winde is one of the leaders gunning for his job as party chief.

However, they are of the opinion that he's a decoy to test the waters, and a way to find out who the party wants to field if the suggestion of an early elective congress is put on the table at the upcoming federal council meeting.

Maimane is facing a serious onslaught from within the DA after featuring prominently in recent reports about his rented home and a donated car he was using in the Western Cape.

On Sunday, Rapport revealed Maimane had driven around for months in a car donated to the DA by disgraced former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste, after he indicated it would be returned.

That same day, the Sunday Times reported that Mike Waters, a senior DA member and MP, had demanded to see proof if Maimane was indeed paying his own rent at his R4m Claremont home in Cape Town.

The DA leader had declared the home in the Parliamentary assets registry, even though he didn't own the property and was only renting it.

According to sources high up in the party, there is a possibility that more scandals involving Maimane will emerge as the DA prepares for its crucial federal council meeting where the review of its election performance is expected to be tabled and the election of a new federal council chairperson is expected to take place.

If you want to be liked 'give people ice-cream'

Maimane also briefly reflected on his relationship with former party leader Helen Zille, who is believed by some to be part of the so-called "1959 project", which is allegedly seeking to "take back their party".

Insiders close to Maimane claim the 1959 committee will attempt to create a parallel structure to undermine Maimane. It's also seen as a factional structure seeking to institutionalise divisions in the DA.

The year 1959 was when the apartheid parliament legitimised qualified franchise.

He noted that she had joined the IRR, which was currently weighing in on the party's internal politics.

"I think whatever the former premier's role is, she must fulfil it in her own structures. I am focused on what the DA must do," he said.

Maimane said he was not surprised that some in the DA were opposed to the direction in which he was steering the party, but he put this down to a few individuals.

"If you are a political leader and you want everybody in the party to be happy, then give all the people ice-cream but actually, if you want to bring change, you're going to have people who oppose the change," he said.

Maimane called on those who are against the changes to use "appropriate forums" within the party to raise their disapproval, rather than going out in the public and attempting to discredit his name.

No numbers inside the DA

Turning to the upcoming federal council meeting, Maimane expressed surprise at how certain members had decided to fight some internal battles through the media, claiming this was not something that happened in the past.

He said there was a new norm within the party, which didn't exist in the early 2000s, pointing out that an issue would be debated by the federal council, a resolution would be taken and then those who were not satisfied with the outcome would raise the matter outside of the party.

"It's unacceptable, it's undemocratic and I think the practice needs to stop. So, I am sitting here today so you know we can't continue to go that way where ultimately, if people cannot win a debate internally, feel they must mobilise it externally," he said.

But he also put the trend down to the fact that attempts to influence most of the party's members internally appeared to have not gained traction.

"If they have the numbers, if they had the people who agree with their argument, then this would surely win it internally," he said.

Maimane is said to have provincial structures in his corner.

These include the leaders, their deputies and members of the provincial legislature caucuses in some cases, who are likely to back him if the review is used to push for an early conference to get rid of him as leader, and in a bid to have the role of federal council chairperson filled by one of his allies, Athol Trollip.

"Why go externally to raise matters that are not even related to ideology," Maimane questioned, as he wrapped up the interview with News24.

The DA's federal executive council meeting takes place on October 18.