The DA elected Mmusi Maimane as leader in May 2015. He succeeded Helen Zille. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko
Johannesburg - The fight for control of the DA
intensified on Saturday with provincial leaders backing Mmusi Maimane to stay in the job despite mounting pressure from his detractors to force him out.

Several DA leaders have claimed that a right-wing element in the party had orchestrated a smear campaign against the embattled leader.

Nine DA leaders said Maimane was being forced out by a group of mainly white leaders for championing redress policies needed to fast-track economic policies and transformation.

They said the same group, also known as the 1955 Committee, who are backed by major DA donors, were also unhappy with Maimane’s combative approach towards President Cyril Ramaphosa. They feared this might pave the way for the ANC to recall him and install his deputy David Mabuza.

It’s been a week of high drama in the DA which culminated in former leader Helen Zille entering the fray for the position of federal council chairperson being contested by three others: former deputy chief whip Mike Waters, former mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Athol Trollip and deputy chair of the federal council Thomas Walters.

Liberal think tank the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), where Zille was employed, also weighed in and urged Maimane to make way for Western Cape premier Alan Winde.

The party has cleared Maimane of wrongdoing after allegations surfaced that he received a Toyota Fortuner from Steinhoff and free accommodation in Cape Town from a businessman.

“I don’t even know who donated this car as it was an arrangement made by the party, I didn’t even see the contract for this car but I used it,” Maimane said.

Meanwhile Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba said he believed right-wing elements within the DA wanted to get rid of Maimane and take over, while forcing others to seek new political homes.

“I am angry and disappointed by the cowardly act of some racists within the party who claim to be liberal. If they don’t want to see a DA with black and white members, they must pack their bags and go and live in Orania,” Mashaba said.

His sentiments were echoed by DA leader in Gauteng John Moody, who said some individuals did not want to see the party united along racial lines.

“But they won’t deter us, we are going ahead as a united front. They slander Mmusi’s reputation with some cheap politics.”

Moody said those who organised the car deal for Maimane must be named and shamed because he “wasn’t even part of the negotiations”.

DA leader in Kwazulu-Natal Zwakhele Mncwango confirmed that he also got a sponsored car for the election campaign.

Mncwango said it was sad people within the DA were running a media smear campaign against its leader.

Federal council member Khume Ramulifho questioned the motives of those gunning for Maimane, saying they appeared to be trying to split the party.

He lambasted the IRR, saying it was encouraging divisions along racial lines to weaken Maimane.

“We must introduce policies that are aimed at redressing past imbalances,” Ramulifho added.

Sources claimed that those plotting against Maimane were his former allies including Zille, Mike Waters, Ghaleb Cachalia, Dean Macpherson, Belinda Bozolli, Maimane’s former chief of staff Jordine Hill-Lewis, Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schaefer, former Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga and DA federal chairperson Athol Trollips.

It was unclear where chief whip John Steenhuissen stood, they added.

The alleged plotters against Maimane have all denied wrongdoing.

“People (are) trying to discredit me for the upcoming internal elections to say I’m part of a factional battle which I’m not and will never be. I despise what is currently happening,” Msimanga said.

Waters said he had been advised not to speak to the media.

Hill-Lewis declined to respond.

Trollip denied being part of the plot against Maimane. “That’s rubbish. I don’t think there are many people who have worked harder or done more to encourage diversity in the party.”

Cachalia said he was unaware of any plot to topple Maimane.

“Mike Waters is a friend and a colleague. There is nothing sinister here. I have never attacked or smeared Mr Maimane. We have agreed and disagreed on issues internally - as colleagues should. That is surely the very stuff of democracy. If Mr Maimane is embattled, I am not the author of his embattlement,” he said.

On being part of the “1955 committee”, Cachalia said the ’55 initiative was simply formed to discuss and debate issues and ideas .

UWC political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu said with Zille now contesting the federal council chairperson position, Maimane should “start packing his bags and place them next to the door of his office”.

“The writing was on the wall as early as they persecuted Patricia de Lille, that Maimane was next in line, but it was not easy to attack both because they were mindful of the elections. - Additional reporting Bongani Hans and Siyabonga Mkhwanazi