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DA's revamp must continue, even if Mmusi Maimane gets boot

DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

Mmusi Maimane's political career is probably going to be the biggest casualty of last Wednesday's general election.

The DA's federal executive (Fedex) met yesterday at Nkululeko House in Bruma, Johannesburg, for the initial postmortem of the DA's worst performance at the polls since its inception.

Expect the Fedex to come out in full support of Maimane's leadership and for it to defend the manner in which he ran the DA's election campaign. But don't be fooled, the story will not end there.

In the coming weeks and months, there would be much lobbying from within the DA as well as among sympathisers who are not necessarily in the party structures for a change in leadership.

Already on social media and other public platforms, some party members and followers are blaming Maimane for a lacklustre performance that saw the party lose a significant chunk of white votes to a resurgent Freedom Front Plus.

The disappointment is understandable, especially coming from a political party that has enjoyed growth with every general and local government election.

When Maimane was elected DA leader on May 10 2015, his mandate was clear: grow the party to be big enough to challenge for power.

It all seemed to be going according to plan, a year later, as Maimane's DA forced the ANC to under 50% support in the Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg metros - taking over power there as part of coalition governments.

The expectation was that this trend would continue in the 2019 elections, with the party leading coalition governments in Gauteng and the Northern Cape while retaining its control of the Western Cape.

It was also expected that the party would see its representation in the National Assembly grow from 22% to about 30%.

Instead, the DA saw its fortunes being reduced to just over 20% nationally while it failed to capture power in Gauteng and the Northern Cape.

The decline has been partially blamed on Ramaphoria, with some would-be DA voters said to have opted for President Cyril Ramaphosa over Maimane. But Ramaphoria wasn't as damaging to the DA as the FF+ growth.

This has revived the debate over whether, in an attempt to grow the party by winning over black voters, Maimane has not alienated a key and loyal party constituency.

If this is the argument of those who are keen to see the back of him in the DA, then it means they want a DA that would pander to the whims of conservative whites at the expense of black voters.

This is a sure recipe for the DA to remain the official opposition in coming years, but with no prospects of ever winning the majority of votes.

What the DA has tried under Maimane's leadership is a difficult route of turning itself into a party that appeals to South Africans across racial lines. Such an approach takes time to succeed.

If the bad performance last week means that the DA has to have a new leader, so be it. But the party would be shooting itself in the foot if its new leader would be someone who will take it back to the days when it was synonymous with "minority rights" and opposition to socioeconomic transformation.

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