South Africa opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane’s future as party leader hangs in the balance after the white-dominated party slumped in the just-ended sixth General Elections.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) under President Cyril Ramaphosa retained pole position after claiming 57.5 percent of the count while the DA dropped to 20.8 per cent from 22.23 per cent in the May 8 elections.
In numbers, the party lost five seats in the National Assembly during last week’s polls, reducing its representation to 84 seats.
It was also ousted by Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as the official opposition in Mpumalanga.
Reacting to the election outcome, Mr Maimane said they would evaluate the reasons for the election slump and make the necessary changes.
Ultimately, our mission to build a non-racial consensus at the very centre of SA’s politics is alive and well on track,” Mr Maimane said in Pretoria, adding he was “100 percent committed to this project.”
In the run up to the polls Mr Maimane, 38, courted controversy by failing to outrightly recognise that blacks were killed in the 1961 Sharpeville massacre in a commemoration message.
Supremacists in the party now attribute the showing to black leaders prompting a rebuke from the party’s shadow minister for communications Phumzile van Damme who is black.
The party next elective meeting is due in 2021 and its federal council chairperson James Selfe could not confirm whether Mr Maimune would be at the helm then.
Mr Selfe is seen as the most powerful behind the scene's figure in the party and the most likely leader should Mr Maimane exit.
Mr Maimane's DA enjoys a predominantly white support base though results showed more South Africans are voting without race as a consideration.
He has led the party for the past four years.
The party’s federal executive met on Monday in Johannesburg to unpack the party’s decline in the elections with insiders saying Mr Maimane’s future could come under threat at the Federal Council – the highest decision-making structure – next month.
But analysts say getting rid of Mr Maimane, who has helped the party cross racial barriers, would be a grave mistake.
Public Relations Strategist Makhosini Mgitywa said DA the could be facing an existential crisis.
On the one hand, he said, some in the party try to minimise the legacy and effect of apartheid while others condemn apartheid but deny white privilege which BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) tries to redress.
"When they do that they appeal to the base of DA while alienating it from the majority", said Mr Mgitywa.
The DA, formerly known as the Democratic Party, gained 1.73 per cent of the vote in the first democratic elections in 1994. Its following grew steadily to 9.6 per cent in 1999 and to 12.4 per cent in the 2004 national elections; both under Tony Leon.
The support increased to 16.7 per cent in the 2009 elections and jumped to 22.2 per cent in the 2014 elections under Helen Zille.
It is only under Mr Maimane that the party has seen a reversal of fortunes, causing the simmering racial fissures.