A year on, Maimane heeds calling to broader church

Mmusi Maimane. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Mmusi Maimane. Picture: Leon Sadiki

DA leader Mmusi Maimane has decided to limit his preaching to the National Assembly and not the House of the Lord. It has been a difficult decision for the politician – who is also a pastor – who has been at the helm of the opposition party for a year now.

On Tuesday, Maimane quietly celebrated his first year as leader of the DA with his staff in Parliament. He scored a landslide victory against Wilmot James to lead the country’s second-biggest party on May 10 last year.

He revealed to City Press that while he still goes to church, he no longer preaches.

“It is because of time, but also because I wanted to focus on this [politics]. I do not feel that what I do in politics is less of a calling than what I would do in church,” he said.

The ANC repeatedly takes digs at Maimane by making reference to his preaching.

In Parliament, ANC MPs usually refer to him as “Honourable Preacher Maimane” – and more often as “Moruti wa Tsotsi (Crooked priest)”.

The August 3 local government elections will be Maimane’s first as leader of the party, something some say will be a vote of confidence in his leadership if the party does well.

He agrees, and admits to feeling the pressure. “It is significant. It is my first election and, of course, your first one is always the important one because you remember that.

“If you had a good first election and a terrible second election, people judge you likewise.”

Maimane first hit South Africa’s political scene ahead of the last local government elections, held in May 2011, as an unknown preacher from Soweto.

He ran as the DA’s mayoral candidate for Johannesburg and ended up leading the party’s caucus in the metro.

Three years later, during the provincial and national elections, he ran for a different position – the Office of the Premier of Gauteng. Again, he ended up in another role – as leader of the opposition in Parliament.

In May 2015, Maimane became the first black leader of the DA, replacing the popular and widely respected Helen Zille.

“I enjoy it. The pressure is different, but there are things that you cannot control. It is like being the coach of a football side. You want to make sure that you go, compete and win.

“I feel as if I am sitting somewhere – a bit like a manager, making sure your players are performing on the field,” he added.

This time around, Maimane has been at the forefront of seeing that the DA picks its best candidates for the local government elections, monitoring the campaign in different areas and making sure that candidates are doing and saying the right things.

The DA’s message for the upcoming election is change.

Maimane points out that there is also a change in the party’s message. “We have always run a very professional outfit; better than most – professional as an institution, but we were not activist enough, so I wanted to bring that change.

“We had to change even in the way we assess public representatives – to say that if you are going to be a public representative of the DA, you must be present in your community 70% of the time.

“That is a big measurement metric that we needed to promote.”

So, what message was the DA sending when it flew its banner over a packed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) rally in Soweto? “We are seeking votes … We had to say, this is what the DA’s offer is. The EFF was putting its offer on the table. We are in a competitive space for votes.”

Maimane denied that the DA was threatened by the EFF, saying the Red Berets’ constituency was different
from that of the DA, and small by comparison.

City Press understands that the DA’s elections team came under heavy criticism from some of the party’s top leaders for the Orlando Stadium stunt.

What sort of result would make Maimane smile on August 4? “We have to move out of the Western Cape,” he responded.

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