While African National Congress (ANC) bigwigs gathered at their usual venue outside Pretoria on Friday for the party's national executive committee meeting on Friday, the head of the DA's federal legal commission, Glynnis Breytenbach, was behind closed doors with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille about her tweet in which she said colonialism wasn't all bad in the light of Singapore thriving.
The ANC's NEC might end up having to deal with an issue that has pitted ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and President Jacob Zuma against each other. The object of their fight, newly-elected Nelson Mandela Bay chairperson Andile Lungisa, has no reason to be at the meeting and his case is not even on the agenda.
Earlier this week he said it was for the NEC and not for Mantashe to decide on the rule that he was not allowed to stand for election in a lower structure while he was part of the provincial executive committee. It is not clear, however, who would be raising the point in the NEC meeting on his behalf, as the only person who has publicly spoken out in his defence, former Western Cape ANC chairperson Marius Fransman, has himself been kicked out of the party due to sexual harassment charges.
Zuma himself has indicated that he approved of Lungisa's election, but since has uttered nothing publicly in defence of him. Zuma has, however, also not sided with Mantashe on this one, and the assumption is that some proxy in the NEC will raise the issue — which will inevitably amount to another test of Zuma's support in the party's top body ahead of its elective conference in December (where Zuma is likely not be running, but where he will be pushing hard for former African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him).
If Lungisa keeps his position, it would open the door for more to flout the party's rules as they wish and would create chaos ahead of the ANC's national conference and, if he is forced to step down, there will be yet more instability in the ANC and further haemorrhage of votes in the already troubled metro, where a DA-led opposition coalition took over last year.
Similarly, the DA's top body, the federal executive council, will have to make a political decision based on Breytenbach's recommendation on Zille. It will be a test of party leader Mmusi Maimane's power, seeing that he's already spoken out strongly about Zille's actions. She has been pushing back just as fiercely.
Zille herself head-hunted Maimane for the party ahead of the 2011 local government elections, but she now seems uncomfortable about the direction the party has assumed. There's even been talk about her wanting to make a comeback in a party leadership position in the next year or two.
If she's not fired, Maimane might appear weak and it could lose potential future black votes, but if she is fired, the party could lose existing votes, and there could even be a backlash from within the party by leaders who support her. Either way, if the DA's leaders don't handle this well, Maimane might emerge weak and might even lose his top spot at the party's next federal conference.
Both the parties are therefore grappling with internal leadership struggles.
The DA's troubles, however, are due to its growth and the fact that there are more leaders with more diverse viewpoints than in the past.
The ANC, however, has been shrinking in the past few years and its troubles indicate an ever-fiercer fight for fewer resources.
Both parties will have the tough task this weekend of ensuring that these battles don't tear them apart completely.