15 minutes with Mmusi Maimane

2015-05-18 13:31
Mmusi Maimane. (Pic: Liza van Deventer/Foto24)

Mmusi Maimane. (Pic: Liza van Deventer/Foto24)

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In a 15-minute interview, newly elected Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane speaks to Janet Heard about race relations and his blueprint for a transformed South Africa

21 years into the new South Africa and racial divisiveness is more apparent. Why?
First, there is a significant leadership dearth when it comes to this issue. It needs to be led, it can’t be left organically. When [Nelson] Mandela was around, he was the anchor point. He led the movement for a reconciled South Africa. Thabo Mbeki touched on it from an economic inclusion point of view. I don’t think President [Jacob] Zuma has had much impact or input.

Second, we have a sluggish economy. When this happens, people compete for limiting resources – they are on the decline, not rising.

Then, the structure of the economy is still in such a way that if you are black you are poor, If you are white you are wealthy. We haven’t worked hard enough to address the issue.

If you fail to address the economic crisis, which is a complicated thing to do, then you regress back to pragmatism – of winning votes. Try as I like, it is easier for the ANC to stand up and say: Vote for us because we are black, and anyone who is black and not in our party is a hired native, or whatever. Just like statements that inflame xenophobia, we haven’t said enough about public pronouncements by the ANC that incite some form of weakening of race relations.

What message do you have for whites?
If we are going to succeed at reconciliation, I invite people to learn a language. It helps integration and understanding.

When we talk about legislation that seeks redress, it is important for all our futures, yet white people see it as robbing them to pay the other, as a punitive measure. But if we saw problems in the same way – ie that it is not right that black kids have inferior education and it is incumbent on us all to attend to it, then we can go forward. If whites recognised that they came from a higher advantage of education and wealth, then they could ask – what can I do to contribute towards nation building?

And for blacks?
Steve Biko said that the biggest weapon of the oppressor is the mindset of the oppressed. I want to live in a society where opportunities are open to all, I want to look at myself in the mirror and say I am not a subject of anything. I am not less than anything. We need to stand up and say we can compete at any level, see black kids become doctors, nurses, lawyers. The state must open up opportunities so that we can all be part of a reconciled society. Yet the ANC tries to impose a notion of victimhood. We have to live in a space where we can thrive, where we don’t see other races as racists or enemies.

How far are you prepared to drift from “liberal” values in what has been criticised as an expedient quest for growth?
I argue for a progressive form of liberalism. I won’t depart from the rights of individuals. I want to take the organisation and say: let’s understand our history and let’s progress. I think based on our values charter, we can advance that conversation. Let us get markers about what society could look like in five or 10 years.

Is it possible to be a party for all?
The history of the DA has been a balancing act between the fears of the minority and the ambitions of the majority. We have to cut through that now to the next phase, which is the values that we share, and what vision we want for society. Somebody asked me recently: as a white person, who has our backs now? This speaks to our fears. It is not about having anyone’s back, it is about having South Africa’s back. We need to build an inclusive vision – regardless of race. We have allowed people to live in psychological comfort, where they can congregate around their fears.

I am trying to find space in the middle – the centre. It is a party for all but the all are the people who believe in reconciliation and redress, a market economy and the rights of the individual. I don’t doubt that there are some people in our party who will say – this is not for me.

But what is your vision for South Africa?
What we need is a growing economy, an inclusive economy where the rights of individuals are protected and social challenges like health and education are advanced. We need to break down the Berlin Wall of those who are included and excluded, because if not then South Africa’s prosperity is in jeopardy.

What is your biggest fear?
That the country will run out of money. We have the potential to be a failed state. I hope we don’t get there.

Read more on:    mmusi maimane  |  da

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