DA leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: Bertram Malgas/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - Mmusi Maimane, the under-fire national leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), was elected to office amid much fanfare in 2015 in Port Elizabeth when he replaced Helen Zille.

His elevation to the party’s top job was hailed as a step in the right direction in attracting black voters to the party.

However, four years into the job and with the party's internal elections on the horizon, Maimane is facing several challenges, including often damaging verbal showdowns with Zille, the ex-DA leader who vouched for him in 2015. 

Here are the five challenges he faces  

1. The tainted Steinhoff vehicle donation and Cape Town mansion

Over the weekend Maimane found himself having to defend himself against allegations that he was driving a Toyota Fortuner sponsored by Markus Jooste, the tainted former CEO of Steinhoff whose alleged fraud collapsed the company.

In defending himself, Maimane on Twitter said: “The smear campaign continues. These are gutless individuals who will not be named and instead spread lies about me and my family. I have always sought to build a South Africa for all. I remain committed to that vision, regardless of how uncomfortable it may make others feel.”

Two weeks earlier, Maimane was also forced to defend himself after it emerged that he listed a Cape Town mansion in the parliamentary register of interest as his when, in fact, it was owned by a Durban businessman. He later claimed he is renting it and his internal party detractors wanted to know how much he is paying for rent. He is yet to disclose that. 

2. Poor performance at 2019 general elections 

After an impressive performance in the 2016 local government elections where the DA was able to, thanks to a coalition with several small parties, snatch Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay (it later lost it), Maimane faced a headache after the May 2019 general elections when the party failed for the first time to increase its electoral support. The party got 20.8 percent of the total vote against the 22.2 percent it garnered in 2014 under Zille.

Some analysts have attributed the decline in electoral support to some white voters moving to radical parties like the Freedom Front Plus, which did exceptionally well after years of moving to political oblivion.

When the party’s support declined, there were talks of an internal rebellion to kick Maimane out, but a truce was reached allowing him to stay until 2021. Nonetheless, the truce seems to be falling apart as some leaders are allegedly digging up damaging information about Maimane and leaking it to the media in order to force him out of office.  

3. Party funding challenges as funders dump DA 

The electoral decline of the party in May hit it hard, depriving it of income from Parliament and subsequently donors. As a result, in September, Independent Media’s politics desk reported on a memo informing workers that they would not get bonuses in December this year. The memo came from the party’s chief executive officer Paul Boughey. Party insiders said the non-payment of bonuses came as no surprise given the poor showing of the party in the elections.

It is the first time that the once well-funded DA faces financial challenges and it has been partly attributed to Maimane’s indecisive leadership. 

4. Party unity fragile as core white base challenges black caucus 

The recent challenges Maimane faces has exposed the party’s fragile unity, with reports that the black caucus is up against some senior white members who are staging a fight back to “reclaim the party” from the current leadership. The black caucus reportedly includes the likes of Mbali Ntuli, Magashule Gana and Luyolo Mphithi and they are allegedly up against the likes of John Steenhuisen, James Selfe, Dianne Kohler Barnard and Natasha Mazzone. 

5. Helen Zille and Tony Leon’s occasional views on party matters

Even after she left office, Zille continued to light fires for the DA to put out, for example her tweets on racism, black privilege and colonialism. This put Maimane on the back foot. The embattled leader has been labelled as weak and afraid of dealing with Zille.  

Zille is not the only former party leader Maimane has to deal with. In August a weekend publication reported that Tony Leon said the DA, essentially Maimane who raised the R500 000 Bosasa donation to the CR17 campaign in Parliament, was not being wise by accepting the findings of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Political Bureau