Donwald Pressly

Inside Parliament: Maimane will do the DA proud

2015-04-16 15:14

Donwald Pressly

Mmusi Maimane is every white man’s – and woman’s – great black hope. But he is a little wet behind his ears.

There is a measure of truth in both of these sentiments expressed by various leaders and columnists – perhaps a little more subtly - about the man who is likely to take on the mantle left by Helen Zille, the outgoing official opposition Democratic Alliance leader. Most columnists try to avoid casting comment with race labels, but in South Africa race is at the top of every body’s mind. So I will do it.

Let us be brutally honest, the DA is still the party of whites and the bulk of whites undoubtedly support it. It is no accident that it gets about 90% of the vote in (the white, but significantly Jewish, enclave of) Sea Point. It also gets somewhere near that percentage in (the “coloured”) Mitchell’s Plain. It is still struggling in most “black African” communities but in the leafy suburbs, previously white and in some cases now predominantly black, it is mopping up. Thus the DA is more than just a party for whites. It is the party of the middle class of all colours, black, coloured, Indian and white.

The DA can’t, certainly at this point, elect a white leader again. Unless there is someone of spectacular skill – some would say Helen Zille had it – eloquence and political savvy who comes along, the days of white leaders for South Africa’s second biggest party are probably over. There are no Helen Suzmans, Frederik van Zyl Slabberts or Zilles (all white), waiting in the party’s wings right now. Even the “coloured” leadership - Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and federal chairman Wilmot James spring to mind – do not enjoy the national profile - and in James's case public recognition - required.  James is far too academic and lacks the street fighter spirited needed. Maimane is articulate and undoubtedly charismatic. He already holds the parliamentary leadership post in the party.

Maimane did not perform particularly well in his initial interactions with President Jacob Zuma in Parliament. He parachuted from the Johannesburg metropolitan council to becoming Leader of the Opposition, in 2014 a position which had been vacated by Lindiwe Mazibuko, the first black parliamentary leader of the DA.

Lots of nasty things have been said about his performance. He was described as a “hired native” by his ANC opponents, by implication a lackey to the "white" leader Zille. That can be expected. Commentator and part-time UCT economics lecturer Bradley Bordis describes Maimane as “the worst sort of politician… not someone who came through the ranks, but some dreadful hologram constructed by a team of political pollsters, spin doctors and PR managers. All style, and no substance. I just can’t stand the sight of him.” In politics it is always good to have detractors. Another is Gareth van Onselen, a former DA party official, who makes no bones about his dislike of Maimane.

In BDLive he uses TS Elliot’s poem The Hollow Men to describe him as being the essence of: "Shape without form, shade without colour; Paralysed force, gesture without motion”. Van Onselen says: “Maimane is a hollow man. Scratch away the pseudo celebrity gloss and an echo chamber lurks beneath. It matters not to the DA, however. Around him he has the biggest production team the party has ever assembled. It wants whatever platitude it puts into that chasm to reverberate a thousand times over.” Van Onselen goes on to say: “That said, everyone does like some chutzpah and he dresses to the nines while oozing charisma. Put a good script in front of him and he will bring you home an Oscar nomination every time…” Well, what more can one say. He is perfect for the job.

The highlight of his performance was to steal the show from Malema – whose MPs had been bundled out of parliament for the second time - at President Jacob Zuma’s opening of parliament. Maimane accused Zuma of having “broken” Parliament. He, Zuma, was “a broken man presiding over a broken society”. Referring to Zuma as “The Honourable President”, Maimane added: “Please don’t take it literally because you are not an honourable man”. Noting that EFF MPs had been dragged out by armed police, Maimane said: “What did you do Mr President? You laughed while the people of South Africa cried for their beloved country. You laughed while trampling on Madiba’s legacy in the week we celebrated the 25th anniversary of his release.” It was a spectacular performance.

Maimane was one of the few national politicians who stepped up to the plate on the thuggish behaviour being displayed before the statues of our nation in the last few weeks. He wrote that the EFF had taken “the very serious issue of overcoming the legacy of apartheid” and reduced it to a campaign to vandalise statues, the latest being the Louis Botha statue outside Parliament. “Scribbling on statues outside Parliament is easy. The real challenge for parties represented in parliament is to ensure its agenda is focused centrally on transforming society.”

Maimane is a most able force of transformation of the party of the middle class. He is not a socialist or a nationalist. He will do it proud.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    da  |  eff  |  julius malema  |  mmusi maimane

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