DA leader Mmusi Maimane at the launch of the party's election manifesto in Johannesburg.
Mmusi Maimane is animated by the vision of building one South Africa for all. This is not just his political philosophy, but what drives him personally. Long before the DA, this was his mission, writes Graham Charters.
Consider this. At around
midnight on Thursday, 9 May 2019, when the votes have been tallied and the
results of the election are announced, the most likely trend for the two
biggest political parties in South Africa will be: the African National
Congress (ANC) has gone backwards and shrunk in size under Cyril Ramaphosa, and
the Democratic Alliance (DA) has grown and gone forward under Mmusi Maimane.
If you've read a newspaper,
turned on a television or clicked an online news article in the past month, you'd
be inclined to think this is some thumb-sucked inclination from a political
hack. Except, it's not. All credible indicators suggest this will be the result
following democratic South Africa's sixth national election.
The ANC under Ramaphosa is
set to decrease its electoral results achieved under Jacob Zuma, while the DA
under Maimane is set to increase its electoral results achieved under Helen
Yet, the narrative driven by the
mainstream media, opinion makers and their ilk is the very contrary to that.
Instead, their story is that the ANC is reborn, resurgent and renewed under its
"new" leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has led the charge against
corruption within his party and in government – nevermind that the ANC lists
are jam-packed with crooks and cronies. In contrast, the DA under Mmusi Maimane
is reeling in some sort of self-inflicted "crisis" and on the brink
of implosion predicated on a fabricated internal battle.
Pushing this skewed and
factually incorrect narrative, News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson penned a
piece on Monday arguing that Maimane has failed to lead the country's official
opposition party. As former DA leader Helen Zille once quipped, the
commentariat are one election cycle behind in terms of where the voters are at.
Black support tripled
It is vital to outline what
Maimane has set out to do before we can assess his performance as DA leader.
When he was elected DA leader on 10 May 2015, Maimane set out his vision for
the party and for the nation. Topping that list was to grow the DA in electoral
support and in government, to diversify the party and, in turn, to build a
party that is home to all South Africans, regardless of race, gender, culture
These are ambitious goals,
make no mistake about that. Yet on all accounts, Maimane has succeeded. In
terms of increased black support amongst voters, activists and staff, Maimane
has brought real change to the organisation. Under his leadership, the
party's black support has tripled since 2015, and the party beat the ANC in
votes won in Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay in the 2016 local government election.
He's also changed the
internal focus of the party towards grassroots activism. Maimane's DA now has 35
000 volunteers mobilised for the campaign. Over 500 campaign units are actively
canvassing support across the country. His campaign team – easily the most
diverse in South Africa in terms of race, gender, age and language – is doing
ground war events every day.
Maimane deliberately prioritised
training, recruitment and mobilisation in parts of the country we had never
been active in before. And he has lived this out himself, doing over 160 events
in all nine provinces over the past year, in between his party and
He has vastly expanded the DA's
governing footprint. In 2014, the DA governed around 6.5 million people. Today,
the party governs for over 15 million South Africans in over 30 governments. Under
Maimane's leadership South Africa achieved the most significant shift in the
political landscape in the past decade, when in the 2016 local elections the
DA-led governments took power in the country's biggest cities. Former party
leader Helen Zille lauded Maimane, stating, "Mmusi Maimane led the DA into
government in Nelson Mandela Bay, Jozi and Tshwane. I never achieved that, as
hard as I tried."
Relentless pursuit of diversity
A central goal for Maimane
was to diversify the DA's candidate lists to truly represent the country we
still dream of. He championed this move by sponsoring the party's "diversity
clause" at the 2018 federal congress, which now sees the DA's core values
espoused as: freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity. His relentless
pursuit of diversity has drawn many more South Africans - not just to the DA,
but to Maimane himself. He was insistence that diversity is a fundamental value
that must form part of the DA's DNA.
Maimane is animated by the
vision of building One South Africa for All. This is not just his political
philosophy, but what drives him personally. Long before the DA – leading NGOs,
youth empowerment initiatives and church ministries – this was Maimane's
mission. Nothing has changed, except he has a bigger vehicle in the DA to
further this mission.
Since his election as the
first black leader of the Democratic Alliance in May 2015, Maimane has been
under constant and often unwarranted scrutiny. Every criticism in the book has
been levelled against him. "He's too young"; "not experienced
enough"; "indecisive"; "doesn't exude authority"; and
so on and so forth. It's tough being the "first" of your kind: a
pioneer, a trailblazer, a history maker, having a unique pressure on your
shoulders not just to succeed, but to outperform. There are many people looking
up to you, drawing inspiration from you and therefore the pressure is often
more than meets the eye.
Yet, Maimane is doing what no
leader in South Africa is brave enough to do. He is bringing together South
Africans from different races, cultures, religions and genders and uniting them
around shared values. Maimane's project is the antithesis of populism. He stands
on principle. It is easy to shout divisive slogans and make unachievable promises,
much tougher to build a principled organisation for the future.
Despite the unjustified
criticism and a skewed media environment, the DA is on track to grow its
national vote this election, as well as bringing the ANC under 50% in both
Gauteng and the Northern Cape with the aim of forming DA-led governments in
those provinces. And that is down to the bold, visionary leadership of Mmusi
Maimane, who is pushing the march for freedom inexorably forwards. While Ramaphosa
offers false hope in the short-term, Maimane offers real hope for the long-term
future of South Africa.
- Graham Charters is Maimane's
chief of staff.
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