Mmusi Maimane on Wednesday resigned as leader of the DA, after the return of his predecessor Helen Zille to the second-most senior post in the party in a bid to salvage lost support.
“I’ve fundamentally believed… the DA needed to be a home, a place for all South Africans,” he told reporters.
Maimane said it was known that the DA had historically been a minority party.
“However, this needed to change and it required deliberate action.”
He said he “truly enjoyed” campaigning for the DA and worked hard to restore the dignity of the poor.
He was proud of cementing “diversity” as one of the DA’s core values.
“We fought many battles… I want to say I fought many battles, even with Helen Zille… we certainly maintained respect,” said Maimane, as Zille, wearing a grave expression, stood against a wall behind him.
“However, the past few months, it’s become more and more clear… there are a few in the DA who do not see eye to eye with me.”
Over these months, there had been a “consistent and coordinated attack” against him and his family, said Maimane.
“There does come a time when leaders need to step back… I’ve spent the last few days doing exactly that…
“Therefore it is with great sadness… I will today step down as leader of the DA.”
The announcement has been widely anticipated after Maimane supported Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba at a news conference on Monday, at which the former businessman cited Zille’s election as chair of the federal council as his decision for quitting.
Maimane swept into the post amid high expectations in May 2015, becoming the party’s first black leader.
But his grip on power weakened after the May 2019 general elections, when the DA shed about 400,000 votes to the ANC and Freedom Front Plus. It continued to lose support in subsequent by-elections.
A review of the party’s performance in the elections – commissioned by Maimane – recommended that the DA go to an early congress in 2020 as opposed to the original 2021, during which new leaders would be elected.
The review panel said “indecisive” leadership had caused deep divisions within the national caucus and confusion about the party’s ideological stance on various issues.
“The overwhelming view of those who made submissions or with whom we held discussions is that the party leader [Maimane], while immensely talented, committed to the cause, hardworking and widely liked, can be indecisive, inconsistent and conflict averse,” the panel said.
When Maimane was elected four years ago, the Soweto-born politician said in his maiden speech: “Here in this party there will be no room for those who seek to divide, or those who want to mobilise on the basis of race.”
He said the DA would remain strong even if “we disagree with each other” because it was a party built on a strong foundation of shared values. “That’s what makes us different from other parties.”
He pledged the DA was going to work hard to fight the “real enemies” – unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Political commentators advised Maimane to consolidate his position in the party before venturing outwards.
Political analyst Andre Duvenhage of North West University was one of those who recommended to Maimane back then that his strategy should be to “consolidate from the inside and then move to convince South Africans of his vision”.