After getting a beating in the May polls, the party needs to rethink what it wants to be and the only way is to adapt or die
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has taken a broadside at councillors and other top officials who joined attacks on the party instead of defending it, resulting in the carnage at the polls.
In his opening address to the first sitting of the federal council - the highest decision-making structure between congresses - since the May 8 elections, the party leader also called on the DA to “adapt or die”.
“We cannot let this crisis go to waste. The DA is a different animal now from what is was five years ago so it is in every way the right time to take a big step back and have a fundamental rethink about who we are, what we want to achieve and how we plan to achieve it,” he said.
Maimane said the party urgently needed to clarify, “who we are and what we are about”.
The DA was pummeled at the polls, garnering only 21% of the vote, and declining for the first time since Maimane succeeded Helen Zille as party leader.
The party also saw a serious decline in the Western Cape, the only province it governs, and lost its official opposition status in Mpumalanga to the EFF.
Maimane told members of the federal council that while there were a number of factors outside the party’s control, there were some in the jurisdiction of the DA.
These included effective messaging and discipline of party members who he said at times opted to join the attacks on the party rather than defending it.
The party struggled last year to put a lid on heated internal debates and control the narrative around its year-long legal battle with former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.
Maimane went as far as saying even ANC members knew to close ranks and present a united front when it came to elections.
Maimane said in many instances its public representatives let the party down by failing to show unity and in fact were “ill disciplined”, sometimes even challenging the work of the DA government.
The party leader said that on numerous occasions when he travelled with Western Cape premier Alan Winde, local councillors would stand up in a public meeting and attack the DA government for failing to deliver, in front of potential voters.
“How exactly do you want me to respond, when our councillors are complaining?”
Zille’s tweets have also come back to haunt Maimane in recent weeks, after she appeared to equate blackness to corruption by saying that black people in the government got away with maladministration because of their black privilege.
The party leader announced that an internal disciplinary process had been instituted against Zille but he offered very little detail.
Zille no longer serves in any structures of the party, as part of her punishment following the last row over her tweets on colonialism.
City Press understands that the federal council was briefed on Sunday by the federal legal commission (FLC) on the status of the commission’s reports, which could include a report on the Zille matter.
Maimane announced that he had commissioned a party-wide review of the organisation which would be driven by a subcommittee of the federal executive which would be made up of a number of elements, including an external committee, chaired by a former CEO of the party Ryan Coetzee.
The external committee would look into the feasibility of coalition governments with other parties, what changes need to be made by the party, what the party stands for and a redress review.
The matter of the party’s position on redress policy – and in particular whether or not it should be race based - was the straw that broke the carmel’s back last year with senior leaders and members of parliament going to war on social media platforms.
The redress policy was also one of the main reasons that led to head of policy Gwen Ngwenya quitting, just a few months before the elections.
Maimane said the review – which would be the first since 2005 – would inform how the party should positioned itself for the 2021 local government election in which it would like to get outright wins in the Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg metros.
He also wanted the party to focus on growing its support in places such as eThekwini and Ekurhuleni.
In a series of tweets a few days after the national elections, Coetzee aired his views on the DA’s electoral performance.
He said that there was no “silver bullet” that would help the party.
“The challenge for any political party is to identify the place where what you believe in intersects with what voters most want.
“The former without the latter means electoral failure.
“The latter without the former sometimes means electoral success but always failure of purpose,” Coetzee tweeted.
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