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Cape Town - The succession battle to replace DA leader Helen Zille has turned nasty, with supporters of Lindiwe Mazibuko and Mmusi Maimane pitting the two against each other and trading damning allegations.
The two have been named as front- runners to replace Zille when she steps down at the party’s next congress.
The Sunday Independent understands that there is a move for Maimane to replace Mazibuko as parliamentary leader, which would stand him in good stead for the DA top job.
This week senior party leaders batttled to quash the allegations for fear of derailing the 2014 elections campaign, which has already begun in earnest.
Late on Saturday a senior DA leader confessed that many in the party were worried that the election campaign would suffer if candidates were moved from the positions which they are currently contesting.
The raging battle between the two has already damaged the DA’s campaign to take over Gauteng and could also anger those who vote for Zille in next year’s elections on the basis that she is party leader.
This week, as the fight intensified, opponents of Mazibuko – DA parliamentary leader – alleged she was being investigated for allegations that on a recent trip to London she used a “chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz amounting to a R35 000” bill for the party.
But her supporters have countered the allegations with an accusation that the party pays for four bodyguards for Maimane, the DA Gauteng premier candidate, despite an apparent low risk of danger to him.
Yesterday DA MP Geordin Hill-Lewis, a senior aide to Zille, said: “This is nothing but internal rumour mongering before an election. There is no truth to it.”
Zille said she had nothing else to add to his comments.
DA federal executive chairman James Selfe flatly denied that Mazibuko was being probed. “There is no investigation,” he said.
Mazibuko’s spokeswoman Siviwe Gwarube said the allegations were untrue and were the work of people “who are trying to sow divisions ahead of the elections”.
Maimane confirmed on Saturday that the party pays for his bodyguards, but did not say how many he had been allocated.
“Any candidate would have (bodyguards). I have received threats in the past,” he said.
The Sunday Independent understands that some in the party believe Zille will step down as party leader before 2015, after next year’s elections, while remaining Western Cape premier.
A source said Zille was prepared to step down at its congress last November, but did not because there was no clear succession plan, a situation that could have led to an “unnecessary contest”.
One senior national leader said there was a view gaining ground among leaders that Zille was ready to step down.
“I’m 100 percent sure people will ask Helen to step down after next year’s elections,” said the senior national leader, who could not be named as the leader is not authorised to speak on behalf of the party.
But a senior MP said it was possible that a special or early congress could be held after next year’s elections if a more suitable candidate for the position of party leader is found.
Neither contingency plan had, however, been discussed by the party’s federal council, members said.
Mazibuko and Maimane have both come under fire from their colleagues before.
In July The Sunday Independent reported that the knives were out for Mazibuko in Parliament.
The new allegation appears to be part of the plan to ensure that Mazibuko is not returned to her position with the new DA parliamentary caucus next year.
This week members of her caucus said the deep unhappiness with her was spiralling, adding that she had turned on Zille after her election.
“There’s growing dissatisfaction about her leadership, or lack thereof. She has conducted herself in an imperious manner. Lindiwe would have lost if it were not for Helen directly intervening,” said an MP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the fierce contest between Mazibuko and then-parliamentary leader Athol Trollip, Zille publicly endorsed the former’s candidacy.
“Helen said there would be consequences if Lindiwe was not elected. But Lindiwe has turned on Helen by being deliberately nasty and has accused Helen of interfering,” the MP said.
“She has made a remarkable transformation into a power-mad megalomaniac, and has systematically alienated, marginalised and pushed aside people. What you are seeing here is someone completely consumed by power.”
The MP said Mazibuko would not be returned and that Maimane would definitely replace her, with another senior national leader saying Maimane had the tacit support of Zille.
A DA leader who supports Maimane but who asked to remain anonymous said in addition to being the party’s Gauteng premier candidate, the charismatic leader had been encouraged to apply to go to Parliament.
Maimane’s supporters believe replacing Mazibuko will put him in pole position to take over from Zille in 2015.
“We are saying that we are transforming, we want a black leader. Lindiwe is not black enough,” the DA leader said. “Mmusi is going to take Lindiwe’s position in preparation for 2015. The group that was against Lindiwe will now support Mmusi,” he added.
The source said unlike Mazibuko, Maimane had been voted into a national leadership position at a DA congress by general members of the party, a sign that he enjoyed popularity among the rank and file of the organisation.
Maimane was voted into the position of first deputy chairman of the party after coming tops against former DA youth leader Makashule Gana and MP Anchen Dreyer.
But Maimane has faced an uphill battle in the province. Provincial leaders have repeatedly said they would not support him leading the caucus and do not hold him in high regard.
It is understood these leaders would include Khume Ramulifho, the leader of the DA’s biggest region, Gauteng South.
Ramulifho denied there were tensions between him and Maimane.
But a senior leader in the party who supports Mazibuko said she would remain parliamentary leader next year.
“We are expecting Lindiwe to not get the (same) overwhelming support... She is leading and implementing changes, and this comes with pain. There are guys who have been in Parliament since 1994. When Lindiwe removes them, they complain to Helen,” he said.
The leader said Maimane’s supporters misconstrued attention on him as power. “Helen is no longer in the spotlight like in the past. The same for Lindiwe. Mmusi is in the spotlight because we want to win Gauteng.”
The DA had opted to make him the face of its campaign because of its aspirations to win Gauteng and extend its power base.