IRR is ‘right wing’ and I won’t let them treat me like a ‘domestic worker’ – Maimane

Mmusi Maimane, leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Picture: EFE-EPA / Kim Ludbrook

The opposition leader admits to having ‘disagreed fundamentally’ with former IRR research fellow Helen Zille, who is now running for the role of DA federal chair.

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane was interviewed on Power FM on Thursday, where he spoke about the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) recently launching a campaign to “save the opposition”, which focused entirely on the DA and called, among other things, for Maimane to step down.

“I don’t subscribe to right-wing movements,” he said.

While the IRR identifies as a classical liberal think tank, some outsiders consider them right wing.

Maimane then expressed the view that the think thank’s campaign constituted overreach.

“If the IRR must involve itself in internal party policy, it’s an overstepping of its job. It’s supposed to provide ideas and ideals,” he said.

Maimane feels asking him to step down was analogous to “some sort of domestic worker relationship where they can tell me when to come and when to go”.

“It’s an attitude in South Africa we must all stand up against,” he said.

Asked how he felt about the fact that some of the IRR’s membership overlapped with the DA’s, Maimane said “any DA member is free to associate with any movement they want to”.

“But those institutions are not the DA.”

However, he said the recent campaign revealed a “patronising, supremacist approach that is dangerous”, saying that if such campaigns succeeded there would be “no point in political leadership”.

“We should rather just all be run by institutes,” he added.

The show’s host, Aldrin Sampear, then asked about the relationship between Helen Zille – who became a senior research fellow at the IRR following the end of her tenure as Western Cape Premier, but then quit and announced that she would run for the position of DA federal chair – and the think tank.

READ MORE: Helen Zille, the IRR and the increasingly crowded right-wing closet

“I’m not here to clarify Helen Zille’s relationship with the IRR, I’m not sure what it is,” he said, adding that he was “not qualified to comment”.

Asked if he was comfortable with her running for federal chair, he said: “She is a member of the DA, which means she’s entitled to any position she likes.

“It would be unfair to prejudice the election by saying what would happen after you vote for Zille,” he added. “Candidates must campaign.”

Asked if Maimane was prepared to work with Zille despite their ideological differences, Maimane said: “The only conditions upon which I will not work with any candidate is when we depart from the principle of a non-racial SA, one based on justice.

“It would be unfair to have two visions, this would be division. If we disagree on those ideals fundamentally we can’t work together.”

Sampear brought up the media briefing at which the DA announced that Zille would be disciplined and excluded from party matters due to her controversial tweets on colonialism.

He asked Maimane if he thought it was appropriate for Zille to run for federal chair following this disciplinary action, to which Maimane clarified that the action was only instituted until the end of her tenure as premier, after which she was “free to engage as she wants to engage”.

Sampear then asked if this was the beginning of the breakdown in the relationship between Maimane and Zille.

“You didn’t even look at Zille and hammered on about how hurtful the tweet is,” the interviewer said.

“We’ve disagreed fundamentally on those issues but I treat her with the professional courtesy she deserves,” replied Maimane.

(Compiled by Daniel Friedman.) 

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