Answering questions in parliament on Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa threw his weight and that of the ANC behind DA leader Mmusi Maimane, who has reportedly been facing criticism from his senior colleagues in the DA.
Building up to this, the president offered a brief history of colonialism and apartheid, before acknowledging the challenges that still remain in South Africa, including severe inequality divided by “race, gender and geography”.
Maimane was reportedly taken to task last week by his three most senior DA colleagues in parliament over his comments on white privilege made during a rally on Freedom Day last month.
While addressing DA supporters in Soshanguve, Pretoria, Maimane at the time said South Africans had to confront “white privilege and black poverty” to bring about the true meaning of freedom.
City Press reported that during a heated caucus meeting on Thursday, DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, his deputy Mike Waters, and MP Natasha Mazzone, apparently supported by DA MP Ghaleb Cachalia, raised their concerns with Maimane.
The senior MPs were said to be frightened of alienating white voters ahead of next year’s general election, particularly because the DA wants to take control of Gauteng from the governing ANC.
The meeting had apparently been described by party insiders as an “orchestrated attack” on Maimane.
The trigger of the confrontation was said to be fears by some DA members about how the thorny issue of diversity and race within the party will affect their positions, as well as the impact this will have on jobs for senior white DA members in parliament and in government.
On Saturday, Maimane, however, told City Press that he was not apologetic for his Freedom Day comments and his stance on the need for change in the DA.
“I firmly stand by the comments I made during the party’s Freedom Day celebrations. This is because South Africa remains a deeply unequal society in which black South Africans remain locked out of opportunities, even after 24 years of democracy.
“The systemic consequences of apartheid still remain. The ANC has done little to break down this inequality and as the DA we want to break these barriers down,” Maimane was quoted as saying.
Ramaphosa said in parliament on Tuesday that South Africans needed to acknowledge that “what is being complained about (racial discrimination) indeed did happen” and he referred to an earlier ANC commitment that “white privilege and black poverty” should be “consigned to the past”.
“In this context I wish to commend the Honourable Maimane for having made exactly the same statement in his Freedom Day message,” said Ramaphosa.
Maimane had also faced criticism from the Sunday Times’ Hogarth for comparing himself to Nelson Mandela (which Hogarth mocked as being a “Mini-Madiba”), but Ramaphosa said on Tuesday there was nothing wrong with this; in fact, he said, Maimane’s entire message had been “absolutely correct”.
“In doing so he [Maimane] also invoked imagery that depicted him as a Junior Mandela.
“We will be the first to defend Mmusi Maimane against those in his own party who want to deny the reality of racial inequality in South Africa.
“We will rise in unison, Mr Maimane, to defend you because your message was on point; you were absolutely correct.
“We were alarmed to see headlines in a local newspaper which said that the majority of DA members are turning against you because you were telling the truth.
“We need, secondly, to agree as a nation on the measures we need to reduce inequality and end poverty must be at the centre of our efforts.”