DA leader Mmusi Maimane (Amanda Khoza, News24)
Johannesburg - Having the DA’s final rally in Dobsonville, Soweto, had everything to do with Mmusi Maimane - who was born there, 35 years ago.
A handy press leaflet with useful information, including Dobsonville Stadium facts in numbers, even mentions Maimane’s nearby primary school.
In an impressively-delivered, autocued speech, from an impressively round stage, at a smoothly-organised rally on Saturday, Maimane told the almost capacity crowd that he and his friends used to play on the Dobsonville streets.
- Find everything you need to know about the
2016 Local Government Elections at our News24
Elections site, including the latest news
and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3
elections, or download the app for iOS and Android.
His parents, who still live in the same house in Mmutle Street, attended the rally.
In this spirit of nostalgia, Maimane said the release of Nelson Mandela had brought hope and celebration to Soweto. In 1999, Maimane himself had voted for the party of Mandela.
But then, eight years later, the ANC “would abandon its values, abandon its people and abandon me” and elect Jacob Zuma as president, Maimane said.
“That day marked the end of Madiba’s ANC,” Maimane said. That is why he wanted people to vote DA instead. “Do it for Madiba,” he said.
The day before the rally, Maimane campaigned near Chiawelo Clinic, not far from Dobsonville Stadium.
A campaign of firsts
There he told a crowd that Soweto “started a journey led by so many freedom fighters”, including the class of 1976 and Mandela, whose house in Vilakazi Street is now a museum.
This tradition had not stopped, he said, but had been taken over by the DA.
Later that afternoon, we met Maimane for an interview, as his people made a few minutes available in between rehearsing his rally speech. He and his team were based at the Fairways Hotel in Randburg, an upmarket establishment that almost seems to hide from the nearby run-down suburb of Windsor.
It’s clear the climax of his party’s almost year-long local government elections campaign had been physically exhausting, but Maimane said: "It’s been an incredible campaign, the most invigorating".
The sense that the DA has a fair chance of taking the Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane metros from the ANC, has been driving the optimism.
It’s been a campaign of firsts. The party’s manifesto launch was the first time it had held a national rally in a stadium, and it did so again with its closing rally. Both drew close to 20 000 supporters, according to the party.
It’s the first time the party has candidates across all wards in South Africa, including deep rural and traditional ANC wards. This was positive, because the party put up the infrastructure for it to campaign, Maimane said.
It was Maimane’s first elections campaign as party leader. Five years ago he had his first taste of an election campaign – and a loss - when he joined the DA as its Johannesburg mayoral candidate.
'Values transcend race'
One of his biggest lessons from leading an entire party’s campaign has been that it’s the ground work that matters, more than the grandstanding.
"Sometimes people fall in love with parties because they are in the headlines. But actually, when you reflect on it, it is whether you have sat in lounges, you’ve sat with people, you’ve spoken to them, that is a very important thing," he said.
The parties who chose grandstanding would suffer when the election results were announced.
The ordinary people he spoke to, "blew me away", he said, and were his greatest inspiration. He learnt that "values transcend race". People all cared about the future of South Africa, education, prosperity, and not having one race dominate another.
Maimane said, despite attacks on him by both President Jacob Zuma and Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, he did not believe in playing dirty. "When people want to descend into the gutter of politics, you have to be willing to rise above it because the gutter they are going to, when you follow them to the gutter, you destroy a nation," he said.
He warned that "Zuma is starting a race war" which had manifested in Tshwane, following the announcement of Thoko Didiza as the ANC’s mayoral candidate.
One of the objections against her was that she was Zulu and not born in the metro.
Maimane said this could lead to a situation like Rwanda in 1994, when members of one ethnic group killed another, or in Kenya after the 2007 elections, when there was ethnic violence.
'About fame and fortune'
Given the way the DA has been trying to emulate Mandela, it is perhaps strange that this pastor did not say he drew his inspiration from the country’s first president. Instead, it came from the ordinary people and from sitting in Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko’s cell in Port Elizabeth, on a very cold day.
"As I sat in the cell, I reminded myself that perhaps, for his generation, the prospect of death as a result of your political conviction, was always before them, yet they stood up for the cause," he said.
Now it was more about "fame and fortune" and access to money. Maimane said politicians should ask themselves if they would be willing to pay "whatever price" for their ideals.
Like politicians with ANC origins, Maimane has learnt that home games – such as a rally in Dobsonville – are good for getting a warm reception, even if most of the crowd doesn’t come from the close neighbourhood (as was the case on Saturday).
His choice of using Mandela as a strategy to fight these elections could prove to be a bit more of a short-term gamble, however, because many ANC voters have a sentimental attachment to their party, and they know Zuma will not be around forever, especially with the party’s 2017 electoral conference around the corner.
Besides, the ANC retaliated by pulling struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela out of its hat at its final rally on Sunday.
Come the 2019 general elections, and come a new ANC president, Maimane could find himself short of the Madiba magic he is after.