DA leader Mmusi Maimane was this week hauled over the coals by his young MPs over the party’s ambivalence on the #FeesMustFall campaign during the DA parliamentary caucus meeting.
This was the day after the DA voted with the ANC and other opposition parties for Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to proceed and table the medium-term budget policy statement to Parliament despite the chaotic protest by university students outside in the parliamentary precinct.
Four DA MPs told City Press this week about the heated caucus meeting on Thursday where young DA MPs of all races challenged Maimane and the caucus leadership on the party’s “obsession with institutional process”.
The sources said about eight young MPs, including Nqaba Bhanga, Makashule Gana, Solly Malatsi, Gordon Mackay, Heinrich Volmink, Zak Mbhele, Marius Redelinghuys and the party’s national spokesperson, Phumzile van Damme, felt the DA could have done more to show solidarity with the protesting students. But Maimane told City Press he was confident the DA had done its best.
A DA MP who did not want to be named said the young MPs were critical of how the party decided to remain in the House instead of showing solidarity with the students, and were also questioning the party’s overall approach to the campaign.
“Most people are gatvol that the party’s respect for institutional process co-opts us into the ANC’s madness,” said the MP.
The MP said Maimane spoke to the caucus about “the difficulty of the situation” explaining the reasons for the DA’s decision to remain in the House. “People went on about how we must be clear about whether we support the students. If yes, how strong is that conviction and how do we proceed?”
The leadership allegedly argued it had been important to remain in the House so DA MPs could assess if Nene’s speech addressed the issue. Another MP, who was among those who challenged the party leadership in the caucus, said there was a divided view about where the emphasis of the DA should be.
“This was a legitimate cause of the students and the DA should have stood with them,” said the MP, adding that the stance the DA took on Wednesday was “indicative of a lack of leadership”.
“While the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] is very bold and radical in its manner of expression, we are a bit too conservative when it comes to so-called institutional compliance. We need to be somewhere in the middle,” said the MP.
Maimane rejected claims that the caucus meeting was heated; he instead described it as “strong”.
“I thought it was a strong caucus and it needed the adequate discussions on how we go about ensuring that we continue the fight for students through the parliamentary process,” he said.
Maimane said most caucus members felt the party could support the student protest by fighting for the right budgetary processes. This was a view held by one or two people, but was not the view of the caucus.
“Ultimately, the fight must continue in Parliament to ensure that our parliamentary work ensures there is adequate funding being allocated to the students,” said Maimane.
He outlined several interventions he had made, including that:
- The DA had shifted the discussion away from blaming institutions and started the #BladeMustFall campaign.
- He was the only public representative who had gone “out of his way” to meet students.
- He had made the call for President Jacob Zuma and Blade Nzimande to address the students.
Volmink did not respond to requests for comment while the seven other MPs refused to discuss what was said in the caucus meeting