Maimane's DA marches on: A response to Adriaan Basson

2019-04-30 18:00
MANGUANG, SOUTH AFRICA ââ?¬â?? MAY 7: South Afric
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 Zille.

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 or language.

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 parliamentary duties.

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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