Is the DA on the brink of implosion?

090515. Boardwalk Centre in Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth. Democratic Alliance (DA) member at the sixth Federal Congress in Port Elizabeth. Federal Congress is the partys highest decision-making body, constitutionally required to meet every three years. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

The DA over the past 6 months seems to be suffocating under the strains of ideological confusion and policy incoherence, choking from the chains of political purgatory and paralysis and suffering from a series of strategic and tactical blunders. The roots of which is the party’s inherent class and racial tensions, cultural conflict and a clash of civilizations that has been brewing for over a decade. 

The latest crisis indicates that certain senior members of the DA are now considering splitting from the DA to form a new liberal Party. Is there merit to these allegations? If so, it is but the latest in a litany of evidence of a Party that may now be moving beyond the crisis phase of deep disarray, desperation, divisions and destabilisation since January 2018 to total disintegration. The question on the lips of most DA members, supporters and analysts alike is whether the DA has reached its pinnacle point of crisis and will we be witnessing a fully- fledged implosion in the next 6 months?

Unsurprisingly, the DA leader Maimane was quick to dismiss these allegations, brushing it off as nothing more than internal caucus conflict, factional rumour mongering, polit(r)icking and electioneering silly season theatric(k)s. Is Maimane naively aloof believing his own spin or is he desperately attempting to portray a brave face in what seems to be for all to see, a sinking ship? 

Despite Maimane’s bare denial, the anecdotal evidence indicates that there may be some truth to these allegations. The alleged plotters form the core of the lily-white English liberal leadership, and the so-called brains trust of the Party. They include Gavin Davies, Paul Boughey, Tim Harris and Geordin Hill Lewis who remain ominously silent in refuting these allegations.  

This silence coupled with the confirmation by Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), that they have been advising senior DA leaders on the options of a DA break- away suggests as the saying goes that where there is smoke there is fire! It is also not a coincidence that Gareth Van Onselen is a senior employee at the SAIRR. He is a former old school liberal DA apparatchik who has to his credit and with dogged determination consistently opposed the direction the DA has been taking over the past decade. Therefore his support for a project to liquidate the DA and create a more purest liberal party would not be too far- fetched. It seems that the white liberal English platoon of Ryan Coetzee a.k.a. Private Ryan and his deputy Nick Cleland have put aside their differences with the Party and regrouped. Unconfirmed sources inside the DA also allege that Tony Leon , James Selfe, Helen Zille, Natasha Manzoni, Anthea Serritzer and Ian Nielsen may also have a hidden hand in this plot.

What exactly has led to this latest rupture? Has Maimane the former great white liberal hope, like his predecessor Mazibuko become another disappointment and divider for the white liberal project? Or has he since, his re-election become the great black disruptor of the white liberal ideology project, refusing to tone down his huffing and puffing in respect of diversification. Has he found a new appetite to lead the black caucus to continue to push for a so called ‘’african liberalism of a special type’’? Or is he in an act of desperation trying to gain brownie points from the black caucus in the face of an imminent war with his former liberal friends now turned foes after having left the black caucus at their recent national conference? 

Whatever the truth, his ‘damascian’ change and current message resonates with the majority of the black caucus in the DA. However, it has also divided the DA along racial lines, angering the white English liberal caucus to the extent that they may now be considering a scenario of self- imploding the DA. It has also made their historically white conservative hegemonic support base uncomfortable and nervous.  

In a further irony these leaders continue to operate both in the open and in dark rooms, using smoke and mirror strategies as well as cloak and dagger tactics without being charged.  Allegations such as these for any political party would be considered treasonous and the alleged conspirators immediately neutralised. But, these alleged plotters continue to rule with free reign. One would have expected that the alleged plotters would have been treated with the same ruthlessness and vigor by the DA in the manner it has acted on its Mayor De Lille.  

Surely, if political leaders meet to explore possibilities of establishing a new party it signals an intention to resign in mass. The DAs failure to act only increases the perception of their internal racism when dealing with alleged infringements by its white and black leaders. What is Good for the black Goose’s is certainly not good for the white Ganders! When questioned about this racist double- standards, DA leaders have tried to play down the latest crisis denying any racism and wrong doing on the part of the liberal cabal eventhough this latest act may be the precipice for an impending implosion. 

Perhaps it is because of the fear of this cabal that other members remain silent because the white English liberals still control the machinery and decision-making structures of the party. It may be why the liberal cabal is able to operate with such impunity. Some of these DA leaders acknowledge that even if there is truth in the talks of a split, they argue that it is nothing more than a hollow threat and political bullying tact(r)ics by a small minority. They seem to rationalize that the white English liberal caucus want to push back Maimane’s new-found mojo and bring him back into their fold. 

History suggests that this threat is much more real than most DA members would like us to believe and that the horse may have already bolted. Since the 1960s whenever the White English liberal cabal’s power, privilege and liberal ideology was under threat of being diluted or disappearing or when the Party experienced a severe crisis, the white liberal leaders would split or collapse the Party to re-invent and rebrand themselves. This happened when the United Party became the PFP and then transformed itself into the DP and ultimately the DA. 

It seems that nearly 2 decades after the launch of the DA the lily-white English Liberal founders of the DA have once again reached a crisis ridden crossroads and they may have decided to burn the house down rather than give it away to its african, coloured and white Afrikaner members. History it seems may be about to repeat itself. 

Zahir Amien is an independent social and political commentator