Maimane under siege, labelled 'rudderless' over DA BBBEE position

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has come under fire for being a “rudderless” leader because of his failure to come out strongly against people misrepresenting the party’s position on broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE).

This week some party leaders and staffers allegedly threatened to resign as their faction went to war over an announcement by the party’s head of policy, Gwen Ngwenya, that the DA’s federal council had resolved to do away with its BBBEE policy, something senior leaders dispute.

City Press has learned that the party’s chief executive, Paul Boughey, is among those who are very unhappy over the move to abandon the BBBEE policy. According to party insider he even threatened to resign.

The party was again hit with an embarrassing public spat after Ngwenya’s announcement. After her claim was rubbished by DA federal council chairperson James Selfe, who said the party had not yet pulled the trigger on the policy but was considering its options; her fellow MPs Gavin Davis and Mike Waters came to her defence.

Gauteng leader John Moodey, Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga and KwaZulu-Natal leader Zwakele Mncwango weighed in on Selfe’s side, as did MP Phumzile van Damme. Ngwenya and Selfe then issued a joint statement to quell the public brawl.

The face-off over the party’s position will now play itself out at the next sitting of the federal executive next weekend. It features on the agenda under: “matters arising, policy development plan BBBEE”.

The BEE fight, coming just nine months before the expected May date for the elections, follows the damaging standoff between party leaders and Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille.

That matter came to an end last week when Maimane and De Lille announced that the DA had withdrawn all disciplinary actions against her and she would vacate office in October.

Insiders are furious Maimane remained mum on what they say is a deliberate misrepresentation of the party’s stance. These senior leaders told City Press Maimane had a responsibility to make his view known publicly, especially ahead of next year’s elections.

Maimane’s spokesperson, Portia Adams, denied there had been threats of resignations, saying the party believed in “open debate”.

“The leader of the DA has made his view clear in his weekly letter Bokamoso this week, where he speaks about BEE. It is entirely possible to oppose the legalised corruption of the ANC’s BEE, and to offer our own alternative of how to empower people and redress the legacy of apartheid. We do not accept that the current version of BEE is the only way to do it, when it has so obviously failed in every respect,” Adams said.

Referring to Maimane’s letter published on Friday on the DA’s website, Adams said apartheid had “systematically left black South Africans out of economic opportunities”.

“We need a system that will include more people, not empower a few,” Adams said.

Meanwhile, Mncwango told City Press there was no confusion over the party’s position.

“There should be a differentiation between the DA and the Freedom Front Plus because, while the Freedom Front Plus exists to protect the interests of a race group, the DA is a party for all.

“Those who vote DA do so because of its values and belief in a nonracial society. In talking about equal opportunity, DA voters know our values.”

On whether or not there should be consequences for senior leaders who have misrepresented the party position, Mncwango said he would make his view known at the sitting of the federal executive.

“I wouldn’t want to argue with my colleagues through the media but I will have my say in that meeting. I want to hear someone who will say to me ‘we must forget that apartheid was a painful experience for black people in South Africa’.

“I want to hear someone who denies the fact that the pattern of the economy is still skewed in favour of the minority, the same race that benefited during apartheid. I wait to hear that.

“To empower black people is the ethical and moral thing to do. I don’t believe that any organisation in South Africa should have a choice in addressing the imbalances of the past.”

Taking a veiled swipe at the MPs who supported Ngwenya, Mncwango said those who had been elected by congress to their positions were clear on the party line. MPs are selected to Parliament by a selection panel.

“All of us elected leaders, black and white, are speaking with one voice because this is not about race. Those of us who are elected, we know the mandate given to us by branches at congress; that is the mandate we are carrying out.”