Reports that the Democratic Alliance is on the verge of a split on racial lines – with dissidents contemplating starting their own party – have been vigorously denied by party leader Mmusi Maimane; while Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has described the reports as “bizarre”.
Is this another example of “fake news” as the DA leadership would have us believe? Well, yes and no. We do not believe the party will split and nor will another party be formed. Yet, undeniably, there is no smoke without fire and the DA is experiencing a period of turmoil without precedent in its history.
There is also no doubt that race issues are a core problem in the party. When Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille was hauled up for allegedly running a one woman-show in the city – and also accused of irregularities – she didn’t hesitate to use innuendo centred on race and gender to explain why she was being “persecuted”.
Zille’s proclivity for tweeting first and thinking afterwards has drawn huge flak – much of it racial in nature. And there is no doubt that senior, white members of the party are unhappy about Maimane’s recent remarks about “white privilege” and how it is a reality in South Africa.
The DA is caught between a political rock and a hard place. To survive and become a credible counter to the ANC, it has to win over more black voters … many of whom believe the country is still white-dominated because whites have benefitted from apartheid. At the same time, white DA supporters are tired of this being thrown in their faces and some are clearly uncomfortable with the direction taken by Maimane. It is vital for the future of democracy that the DA remains strong and remembers the saying: united we stand; divided we fall …