Dear Mr Maimane ... Careful what you wish for

2014-09-25 06:45

If Mmusi Maimane really does have ambitions of leading the DA, he would do well to familiarise himself with the case of one David Moyes.

Moyes had a great career, progressing from coach of third-tier Preston North End to guide Everton to a European Champions League berth and an FA Cup Final. His work at Everton, a middling side, earned him instant respect among his peers and the football-loving world.

So highly did the legendary Alex Ferguson rate Moyes, he personally ensured his fellow Scotsman succeed him at Manchester United when he retired last year, and even urged supporters to rally behind him.

They did. Throughout the drought of the 2013/14 season, they exercised great patience, arrogantly telling mocking rivals a turnaround was imminent.

That turnaround never came, with the result that Manchester United finished a season without a title and failed to qualify to play in the Champions League. After 10 months – and with a handful of games left in the season – United’s management showed Moyes the door.

The 10 months spent at Old Trafford will always be a blot on Moyes’ otherwise impressive copybook. He will re-emerge elsewhere and go on to do great things, but the season in which he became the subject of scorn and mirth will haunt him until the end of his career.

He will always be remembered as the man who let a mammoth become a rabbit.

History will not acknowledge he was a victim of bad timing. Moyes arrived at United when the team was past its maturity. The tried-and-tested “Fergie boys” had passed their prime and were slowing down.

Only the great master himself could get anything out of them. The youngsters were not yet ripe enough to take command. The vision that had guided the team over the previous two decades was also tiring and it was time for renewal.

At the same time, new powers had arrived on the scene. With gallons of foreign money pouring into English football, the terrain had changed when Moyes came in. United’s dominance was being challenged by big-spending rivals and its place at the apex was no longer guaranteed.

The man was on a hiding to nothing.

Maimane will find himself in pretty much the same position should he succeed Helen Zille. His rise through the DA ranks has been nothing short of meteoric. He was little known outside party ranks when he was elected on to the Joburg city council then chosen by his colleagues to lead their caucus.

This position in the country’s biggest municipality propelled him on to the national stage.

When Lindiwe Mazibuko became parliamentary leader, Maimane was the obvious choice to step into her shoes as national spokesperson. Then when she quit her position after the May elections, he once more stepped into her shoes.

It helped a great deal that party leader Zille was a personal fan of his. It is an open secret inside and outside the party she favours him to take over as leader when she moves on.

He is also very obvious in his ambitions.

There is no certainty he will fulfil his dreams as there are other strong pretenders to the throne who, while they may not have the leader’s backing, enjoy lots of support in the party.

But should he get the top job, he will inherit a party that has reached its plateau, just like Manchester United after 20 years at the top. After 15 years of dominating the opposition, the pace of the party is slowing.

The crew with whom Tony Leon reenergised the Democratic Party when he took over from the slumbering Zach de Beer is now greying and arthritic.

At the other end, the younger lot still require some hardening. On the vision side, the party finds itself dazed by the headlights, unable to fashion a way forward.

Maimane will also enter a political environment in which new powerful forces are chomping away at the DA’s lunch. He may occupy the large corner office assigned to the leader of the opposition and get to chair meetings of opposition leaders, but he is in essence a follower.

Both his party and the majority ANC have found themselves dancing to the tune of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

The DA’s numerical superiority has not enabled the party to set the agenda as the nimble, convention-defying EFF has been able to. In the eyes of the public, the big battle is between the ANC and the EFF, with the DA playing a “me too, me too, I’m also here” role.

It is quite likely that if Maimane takes the reins, he too will be a victim of bad timing. His authority will be challenged. He will not have time to mould a long-term vision.

His team will be dysfunctional. He will be walking out the door in no time, making way for a Louis van Gaal figure to nurse the patient back to health.

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