A defiant Mmusi Maimane is adamant that the DA will not be “distracted” from a quest for justice in the face of calls for the party to remove a contested billboard it unveiled this week.
The party has received widespread criticism over the billboard, which lists the names of victims of pit latrine deaths, the Life Esidimeni tragedy and the Marikana massacre.
But the DA insists that the billboard is about highlighting deaths that have occurred as a result of the ANC government.
“The billboard is an important reminder of a government that killed citizens,” said Maimane. “We seek justice for each individual as no political principal has been held to account. The apartheid government committed atrocities and each of those individuals had to be honoured. Why do we now, when the ANC commits atrocities such as Marikana, seek no justice?”
Families of the Life Esidimeni tragedy have been unequivocal in their condemnation of the billboard, saying they were not consulted about it. They want it to be taken down.
Christine Nxumalo, a member of the Life Esidimeni family committee, said this week that the DA’s refusal to take down the banner was an illustration of the party’s true colours.
She told City Press that the party was yet to reach out to the families and that they would meet to discuss a way forward, which would determine whether the committee would take legal action against the DA.
Said Maimane: “When Life Esidimeni began ... no one was outraged. We fought the battle and wanted justice; we called for a commission and confronted the health minister. The names of each of the families are in reports by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke [chair of the Life Esidimeni hearings] and retired judge Ian Farlam [who chaired the commission of inquiry into the Marikana deaths]. I respect the families, but truly, the ANC government killed our citizens ... We should be more angered by a government which fails and whose citizens die, than a billboard. The billboard has now been vandalised, so we have to decide what the next step is. We are not going to take it down. We will work out what the next step is and we will communicate that in the next couple of days.”
The DA has been plagued by a series of own goals over the past year and some insiders are concerned that under Maimane’s watch, the DA will be unable to surpass 22% in the May polls.
The billboard controversy was followed this week by an announcement that Solly Msimanga, the DA’s Gauteng premier candidate, would be stepping down as mayor of Tshwane, with insiders claiming that there was too much uncertainty around him.
Last year saw the DA having to dance around more tweets from former party leader Helen Zille, which were seen as an endorsement of colonialism. The party also had a drawn-out battle with former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, who has since left the DA to form her own party.
Despite these woes, Maimane insisted this week that growth would still be possible. “We are marching on. We will surpass the 22% mark. We are election ready and have been out engaging communities with our message of ‘One SA for All’. It is crucial that we build an inclusive economy – a job in every home, keep homes safe, eradicate corruption by ensuring corrupt politicians get 15 years’ jail time and securing our borders.”
Research company Ipsos recently placed the ANC at 61%, according to surveys conducted, with the DA standing at just 14% and the Economic Freedom Fighters at 9%.
“Ipsos said we would not get past 30% in Nelson Mandela Bay in 2016. Their polls have been inaccurate, and still are now,” Maimane said, dismissing the polls.