The DA’s ‘superstar’ long shot
Date Released: Sat, 17 August 2013 13:59 +0200
Listening to its hot shot young candidate, Mmusi Maimane, you’d be forgiven for forgetting the party has little chance of wresting Gauteng from the ANC.
Mmusi Maimane is not wearing a blue Democratic Alliance shirt. Neither is he in the African print shirt he donned when he first announced his campaign as the DA’s candidate for Gauteng premier.
At the press conference on Sunday, following his victory over Jack Bloom as the party’s candidate, Maimane is sensibly decked out in a warm jersey and charcoal blazer.
He is already making enough of a statement with his choice of venue: a makeshift stage in front of his parents’ face-brick house in Dobsonville, Soweto, where he grew up.
Maimane has a flair for political theatre and he has employed it well. Young, black and well educated, the opposition party’s hot young leader is almost too good to be true.
As national spokesperson for the DA, he’s learnt how to get the press’s attention — something that rankles his peers in the ANC.
“The DA is mounting a dirty media propaganda; all their campaigns in Gauteng are a big flop and they attract less than 20 people but receive extensive coverage,” grumbled ANC Gauteng spokesperson Dumisa Ntuli.
He has a point. Only about 30 people were at the press conference; some journalists, some neighbours. But by the Twitter trending that followed, along with the broadcast coverage, you would have thought there were hundreds in the crowd, hanging on his every word.
The DA is gunning for Gauteng in 2014 but its chances of taking the province are slim. Although they quote their own research putting the ANC at 51% of the vote, analysts disagree.
The party uses local election results as indicators, but the ANC performs better at national elections — and comparing the local and national results is disingenuous, say analysts.
Financial services group Nomura SA estimated an ANC drop from 65.9% to 56.2% nationally, but this comes in the absence of poll data.
An analyst based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Susan Booysen, said the ruling party was unlikely to drop below 60% nationally. To hear Maimane talk about it, however, you would never know he’s the longest shot in the game. He rattles off favourable figures and projections with infectious enthusiasm.
It’s an engaging energy that will do a lot for a party — with or without a win.
Maimane once described his parents as “migrant workers” — his father is from the North West and worked at a lock company, and his mother is from the Eastern Cape and worked in a shop — and he speaks Setswana, isiXhosa, English, isiZulu, Sesotho and Sepedi.
Leaving home at 20, he would go on to get two master’s degrees — one in theology from Bangor University in the United Kingdom and one in public administration from Wits.
He lectured at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and has managed his own consultancy firm. He also worked with nongovernmental organisations, chairing a few foundations involved in rural youth development and HIV and Aids management, and went on to make a bright political debut near the top of the opposition food chain — all before the age of 33.
During our interview at his Johannesburg City Council chambers he takes radio interviews, switching between Setswana and Sepedi for two community stations, before turning to me to continue his interview without missing a beat.
Comparisons with another fast-tracked young black DA leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, are inevitable. But, as analyst Eusebius McKaiser says, Mazibuko and others like her “have nothing on him in terms of warmth”.
His charisma comes in sharp contrast to the prickly, defensive posture many DA politicians take with journalists. Nor does he employ the honed media tone favoured by party leaders, who are great at rattling off soundbites and smug facts without taking the time to make a deeper connection.
He laughs off a question about whether his campaign was inspired by United States president Barack Obama but it’s not difficult to see the influence. One poster showed Maimane beneath the slogan “Believe GP”, followed by the phrase “We can win”.
He also draws on his experiences to unite South Africans across colour lines — from his roots in Soweto to his white wife, Natalie, whom he met in church and who now stays home with their two toddlers.
Maimane witnessed firsthand the violent hostility between ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party supporters in the early 1990s. He became, “by default”, an ANC supporter during that time. “It was a choice between oppression and freedom,” he says.
But it was a macro economics professor at Wits who prodded him into questioning the ideology behind the party. And what he came out with was that he “didn’t believe a bigger state would help, and that was the ANC’s position”.
Cue a developing friendship with DA MP Ian Ollis in the course of his charity work and the seeds were planted. Ollis would win him over to the DA, where Maimane was determined to “contribute to the party”.
He didn’t have to try too hard. Soon after joining he was interviewed for a councillor position, and the panel was so impressed they put him up as mayor of Johannesburg. He went head to head with the ANC’s Parks Tau for the position and lost, but the party credited him with growing their support in the key city from about 20% to 35%.
Maimane was given the party’s second-biggest caucus to lead — 90 people, 40 of whom were as inexperienced as him and needed training.
It was always going to be a tough job. He was leading people more experienced and some who thought he was wholly inappropriate for the job.
Party insiders spoke about a divided caucus under Maimane, and a perception that he was “parachuted” in by national leadership.
Among his achievements are putting in place a long-awaited performance assessment system for the caucus and visibly campaigning on a number of issues including the notorious billing crisis.
Maimane’s major downfall is his inexperience. The man he beat out for the job has more than 20 years of working in public service.
McKaiser puts it bluntly: “If Jack Bloom was more charismatic and black, Mmusi would not have won that candidacy,” he said.
The general consensus among those the Mail & Guardian spoke to is that Maimane will have to be shored up by a strong team.
Win or lose, he has a lot to prove. The DA, however, has scored with a leader unlike any other in its stable.
“Mmusi is a superstar,” conceded one cynical party insider. “People out there love him.”
“If Jack Bloom was more charismatic and black, Mmusi would not have won that candidacy”
Caption: High-flier: Mmusi Maimane has climbed the political ladder at an astounding pace. Photo by: Delwyn Verasamy
By: VERASHNI PILLAY
VERASHNI PILLAY is a Rhodes University graduate
Article Source: Mail & Guardian