Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa's official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, has been taken to task by senior members of the party for telling a crowd at a Freedom Day rally in Soshanguve recently that "white privilege and black poverty" must be tackled.
It has been reported that at a Parliamentary caucus meeting last Thursday, three MPs, Natasha Mazzone, chief whip John Steenhuisen and his deputy Mike Waters argued that his use of race is polarising, saying it could cost them votes from white people in 2019. Later, MP Ghaleb Cachalia reportedly also agreed.
On Sunday, Mazzone weighed in with controversial tweets about the issue, referring to her migrant father's struggle when he first came to SA from Italy.
Not everyone agreed with this view though as an anonymous MP sympathetic to Maimane reportedly said, "the issue was really about the leader's desire to see more black members included in election lists for next year's election.
"So now they start this argument, which is neither here nor there. It is basically a few people. It seemed very coordinated, by a few people who are feeling very insecure. Change is coming and they just can't stop it."
Maimane was reelected as the party's leader at their federal congress in early April. It was there that a heated debate over its so-called diversity clause, and whether or not the party was in favour of racial quotas, was reported. The outcome resulted in the DA amending its constitution to say it was not in favour of quotas, but that it will "take action" to ensure diversity in its ranks "without recourse to rigid formulae or quotas".
On Sunday morning, Maimane took to Twitter to defended his views:
"Dumelang. I will continue to fight for a fair, free, diverse South Africa that offers opportunities for all. Our nation inherited a divided country on race, this gov has not done enough to bring about the change we need for all to prosper. Together we can change this. #1SA4All
"The racists from all backgrounds will seek to http://divide.SA still remains deeply unequal on the basis of race. I won’t pander to the racists, will work with All to ensure that SA belongs to all who live in it, Black & White. Let’s dismantle our yesterday & build our tomorrow," he continued.
"I firmly stand by comments I made on Freedom Day. SA remains deeply unequal, with black SAns locked out of opportunities. We must focus on solving the problem. Liberation of one race is not the enslaving of another – all of us, black & white, must come together to build #1SA4All."
On Sunday afternoon, Joburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba, defended Maimane in a News24 article, questioning the motives of those who disagreed with him on the issue of "white privilege".
"Maimane's remarks espouse neither a departure from the dream of the rainbow nation nor the party's commitment to redressing the legacy of our past. So the question emerges, who do these critics of Maimane represent?
"Not the vast majority of people in our country, who across the racial identities, by and large, understand that the legacy of our past has to be redressed. To get to the bottom of this question one has to look further into the 'reasons' for their reaction. When one does this, one finds this conservative, small-minded thinking cited in the article as the fear surrounding a perceived haemorrhaging of votes from the traditional base," wrote Mashaba.
He said, "So why then, under the leadership of Maimane, do some choose to pretend like this is some radical new direction that is being announced for the very first time? It can only be about the kind of self-interest that permeates politics at the time when politicians need to re-apply for their jobs.
"I think it is time that the silent majority of our party speaks up, rather than allowing a small group to do so in their name, with sentiments that do not embody their values for our country."