Africa-Press – South-Africa. Cape Town – Black leaders in the DA want former party leader Tony Leon to explain the statement attributed to him saying One South Africa movement leader Mmusi Maimane was “an experiment gone wrong”.
Leon caused a stir at the weekend after News24 published an interview on his book Future Tense: Reflections on my Troubled Land and why Maimane was “an experiment gone wrong”, among other things.
Maimane, a former leader who was at the helm of the party during the 2019 election campaign, has described Leon’s characterisation of him as not only offensive but dehumanising.
“The project of dehumanising is certainly one that is historic. I was offended and found the comments offensive but somehow not surprising because this is something not unique in this instance.
“It is something that happens to many South Africans whether you are in the corporate space (or not),” Maimane told the SABC.
He said the issue of “an experiment gone wrong” said more about those who made those comments than those who were the targets of the comments.
“I think being the weekend of Easter, sometimes you have to say ‘forgive them for they know what they are doing’ because in some ways you realise the project that I was engage with is still the one that is desperately needed in South Africa, the project of equality among races,” Maimane said.
Leon could not be reached by Independent Media yesterday, but he told Newzroom Africa the quote attributed to him was a line from an interview with News24.
“Mmusi was an experiment gone wrong as Mmusi never committed to the party’s ideals before he joined it,” he said as he read the full line.
He insisted that Maimane never voted for the official opposition before joining it.
“Of course it was an experiment, something different, something original … How this is dehumanising – I understand people are angry, they are suffering at various levels – is extraordinary,” he said.
When it was pointed out to him that people were offended as his statement evoked sentiments dating to the era when Sarah Baartman was used as an experiment, Leon said: “I am very sorry if people are offended but frankly …”
Some DA leaders have since come to Maimane’s defence while others sided with Leon.
Western Cape leader Bongani Madikizela said Leon should explain himself.
“Tony Leon must explain what he means by ‘an experiment gone wrong’. Obviously, some of us are asking what that means,” Madikizela said.
Zwakele Mncwango, former KwaZulu-Natal leader, said he wanted to know the context in which Leon made the comment.
“If he meant the election of Mmusi or any black leader was an experiment, I would take it as an offence to all black leaders in the DA. It says we are not fit for purpose or to lead,” Mncwango said.
He also said the issue of “an experiment gone wrong” undermined the DA’s processes of electing leaders and insulted the intelligence of all delegates to congresses.
“It is an offensive statement to us. It now looks like all leaders who have been given a chance to lead in the DA were an experiment. He must clarify. Does he mean all of us as black leaders?” he asked.
Other DA leaders took to social media, with Mike Moriarty, DA chief whip in the Gauteng Legislature, tweeting: “When I voted for Mmusi I was not voting for an experiment.”
On Monday, Moriarty would not be drawn into commenting.
“I stand by my tweet. No further comment beyond that tweet,” he said.
Midvaal mayor Bongani Baloyi refused to comment but in a tweet said the comment could “be broader and actually refer to black leaders”.
“Tony Leon speaks like he has ownership rights of the party and the rest of us are guest, experiments,” he said.
MP Michael Cardo posted a tweet which added to the outrage.
“Every new leader is an experiment tested at the polls. Tony Leon was an experiment. Helen Zille was an experiment etc. etc,” he said.
DA federal council chairperson Helen Zille, who could not be reached for comment, tweeted that for her the real experiment was the attempt to “leap frog” three election cycles between 2016 and 2019.
“That mad experiment, which crashed badly, was cooked up by three white males, one of whom was American,” Zille tweeted in response to Cardo.
DA leader John Steenhuisen could not be reached for comment.