2019 and the young guns - MMUSI MAIMANE
Date Released: Fri, 29 November 2013 17:00 +0200
Mmusi Maimane has found himself in a party in which, as one Democratic Alliance insider put it, his nearest competitor at one stage was a charisma black hole. This means the young politician, who exudes warmth and likeability, has shone brightly and is a potential favourite as DA leader when Helen Zille steps down in a few years.
That done, he’ll have a further opportunity given a massive gap in South Africa’s political landscape: the lack of viable policy alternatives for the uninspired youth voters.
“Julius Malema has that sort of militant rock ’n roll thing that appeals to many young people,” says scenario planner Clem Sunter. The problem is that his party’s policy proposals are laughable or just plain disastrous. “We do need someone else to espouse economic freedom, just with a different message to old Julius,” he said.
Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations agrees. “Ultimately, in not having anything fundamentally different to bring to the policy table, Mr Maimane may see his political rise retarded,” he says.
“However, add his political skills to a new, fundamentally different and exciting policy approach that appeals to young people and you have a political proposition that can lead a charge that sees the ANC lose the 2019 or 2024 elections — of that I have no doubt.”
Maimane will have his work cut out for him in moving the DA towards meaningful policy change, if the recent uproar over the Employment Equity Amendment Bill is anything to go by.
But Maimane’s personal challenges will get in the way first.
Political risk analyst Mzukisi Qobo is a Maimane fan but notes that he needs to develop his ideas — and to establish a universal appeal that transcends the DA.
“He needs to provide evidence that he does have a distinct set of ideas: ideas with gravity, ideas that are coherent and that are inspiring.”
Maimane has crafted his image like no other politician in South Africa with carefully co-ordinated slogans, imagery, social media, big rallies and speeches centred on his theme of “believe”.
His is a slick campaign, the likes of which, his staffers proudly say, no one else in South Africa can boast of.
But branding expert Gordon Cook has criticised the campaign, which draws strongly on United States President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
“The disappointment is Mmusi has so many strengths: he is of Soweto; a good-looking guy, which always helps; huge language skills and he’s smart — but he’s not drawing on what he’s about. I think it is really far off the mark to introduce American kind of imagery.”
He is a tightly managed DA product, many claim, with some going so far as to say he wouldn’t function without his support staff.
But others see the DA campaign machinery as a necessity to harness Maimane’s universally accepted charismatic appeal.
Qobo, too, warns that Maimane’s campaign could deter South African voters. “People get put off by this whole Obama wave. It’s had its moment and they don’t want it to be a mimicry of Obama.
“They want to have a sense they know him. If he’s not careful, he’ll lose that. It comes across as someone who has not yet formed his own perspective and [is not yet] fully confident in his own theme to cut an authentic figure.”
But one of Maimane’s campaign staff members shrugged off the criticism. “If the only criticism that people can throw at us is that it’s very Obama-like, then I think we’re doing very well.”
To his advantage, Maimane has the considerable organisational resources and funds of the DA to draw on when it comes to the unglamorous task of running an organisation.
But with just two years of political experience, Maimane’s organisational leadership ability is always going to be in question.
At just 31, he found himself leading the party’s large caucus of 90 in Johannesburg, 40 of whom were first-time councillors as inexperienced as he. It has not led to the most favourable reports on his organisational leadership.
His supporters point out he did well, all things considered, with his predecessor saying the caucus had a better morale under Maimane than before.
But political analyst Eusebius McKaiser says: “He spreads himself too thin and he has struggled to be a caucus leader.”
The general consensus is he has to be shored up by a strong team in any leadership role, and the same would be true of him as a potential presidential candidate one day.
In Cronje’s view, young politicians the world over are tasked with fundamentally changing the problematic policy frameworks that came before them and proposing new and different paradigms on how to empower young people.
Maimane and the DA are only offering variations on tried ANC policies at present. Maimane needs to go off script, analysts agree, and look at real change in the DA’s policy outlook.
“[He must] bring his weight to shift the orientation of the DA more towards social justice issues and transformation issues,” Qobo says.
Analysts agree Maimane is definitely a politician to watch. If he is bold enough, he could well see himself positioning his party as a serious challenger to the ANC come 2019.
But to do so, he needs to be more authentic and more specific, and accomplish the gargantuan task of moving the DA to completely new policy proposals. Stack those challenges together and the odds aren’t entirely in his favour.
Needs experience: Mmusi Maimane has to develop his ideas and help to move the DA towards meaningful policy change. Photo: Oupa Nkosi
By Veshni Pillay
Source: Mail and Guardian
Pillay is a Rhodes University graduate