Is DA leader Mmusi Maimane ready to be president of South Africa?
“I am readier today than I was five years ago,” he says with a nervous laugh.
Five years ago, Maimane was appointed leader of the DA with the blessing of his predecessor, Helen Zille.
Then labelled a puppet, Maimane says he has become “tougher” since he was first elected.
Yesterday, the party launched its election manifesto, marking the DA’s first national election with Maimane at the helm.
“I have become tougher. I have become a lot more intolerant of many things,” Maimane told City Press this week at a rooftop location in Hyde Park.
“Earlier on in my career, I may have been worried about who I must perform against. Now I am a lot less like that. It does not matter anymore who I am up against. I am more focused.
“My own faith has stopped being this nice faith. It is a stronger conviction that is less churchy; it is now more a conviction about South Africa.”
His mettle was tested when he faced off with Zille, months before his second election as leader over a series of tweets.
Maimane is adamant that even as the former party leader continues to be a thorn in his side, that the moment was an important one for him where he came out on top.
“Helen now reports to me from a governance point of view. We needed to change the dynamic earlier on, so even if the public might say that she still tweets and so on, the power dynamic had to change. That moment gave us the opportunity to change this.
“There isn’t anyone else in the organisation who can pick up the phone and say to her: ‘Please stop what you are doing because uyangibhora manje.”
Two victories stand out for him as major wins over the past five years.
“Local government elections, and watching Solly [Msimanga], Athol [Trollip] and Herman [Mashaba] be elected. Who would have thought that the DA would be in charge of Tshwane and Joburg,” he trails off, before mentioning Nelson Mandela Bay, which has since done away with Trollip, who was ousted in favour of his arch nemesis, the United Democratic Movement’s Mongameli Bobani.
Also memorable in the recent past is the much-contested diversity clause, adopted at last year’s federal congress, where Maimane was given a mandate to lead the party for a second term, uncontested.
“The fight to bring everybody together, even though it was a long process, is something that will remain there – unless another leader comes in and says we will remove all the values, which is a different story. I went home to my wife that night and said: ‘Here we have set something up where future generations will say: ‘That changed the Constitution of the DA because it never shall be that the DA is a party that represents a particular race.’
“I have also watched my own wife strengthen. I have seen her become someone who now has a deeper appreciation of politics and is a much better support.”
The honeymoon period in the party has not lasted long, with some members pushing for Maimane’s possible removal over his stance to transform the racial makeup of the party.
He has downplayed talk of a lobby for him to be removed after this year’s general elections, should the party fail to grow beyond 22%.
Currently, the party’s internal polls indicate that it will walk away with 24%.
Maimane, who has been accused all too often of being indecisive, is adamant that he will remain leader and achieve his targets. “I want to double the number of black South Africans in Parliament. We are nearly there.
“When I look at all the provinces, there seems to be change. I was not completely satisfied with the Western Cape; they could have done better,” he says.
“The difficulty is that I do not know of another political leader in South Africa who is trying to achieve what I am. People give up on building a nonracial organisation. It is difficult.”
In preparation for the upcoming polls, the former pastor says that he has taken to running.
“I train a lot more now, just to give myself time to think away from the organisation.
“Leadership requires a lot; it can isolate you. I have enjoyed training and spending time thinking about what exactly Mmusi Maimane wants.
“Remember that there is an organisation that does a job, and you have to answer to it as a leader. So, I ask myself: What do I bring to this? So, even the DA slogan – ‘One South Africa for all’ – is something I hold as personal.