Many must be disappointed by recent questions surrounding DA leader, Mmusi Maimane’s rented house in Cape Town and the car that he drove.
It doesn’t make any sense that he would have recorded the house in parliament’s register as belonging to him when it didn’t, and kept driving the loaned car, even, it is said, when he would have known that Markus Jooste, the person who reportedly lent it to him, had become reputationally toxic.
It is also not helpful that Maimane seems hesitant to publicly reveal how much rent he has been paying for the house whose owner is now known to be a friend of his. Because he is a leading public figure in the politics of our time, such information is of paramount public interest.
While others didn’t take long before drawing parallels with the house that EFF leader, Julius Malema, is said to have rented from an alleged cigarette smuggling benefactor, someone cynically joked that they wouldn’t be surprised if it came out that even Maimane’s wife was loaned to him by one of his benefactors.
To people who believed in him, all of this constitutes a brutal "et tu Maimane" moment, robbing this leader of the no wrongdoing ‘halo’ that has hovered above his head up to now. With this halo, Maimane has been able to look down at almost all other key political leaders in parliament from the moral high ground and preach the values enshrined in our Constitution as well as the rule of law; reminding them of who we’re supposed to be, as South Africans.
To the many cynics out there, it was just a matter of time before the halo disappeared. After all, Mmusi Maimane is a politician in a country where an uncorrupted or incorruptible person in his position has become an anomaly. The developments unravelling around him are also most welcome to those who are already implicated in a whole basket of wrongdoing.
To them, these developments constitute a rite of passage that normalises Maimane and that brings him to their level, down from that moral high ground he has occupied since entering the political arena.
Everything now hinges on how Maimane and the party he leads handle these developments. Will they take a leaf from the ones who went through their own rites of passage long ago – certain crime-implicated men and women who continue to lord it over the affairs of our land, masquerading as lawmakers when they are in fact lawbreakers - and defend the indefensible?
Or will they do the right thing and come out with the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so that their supporters can make informed decisions when they decide to forgive or to withhold their sympathy?
Will they do this now, while the half-revelations are still hot, so they can be dealt with once and for all and enable public attention to move to more pressing issues of national importance; or will they let the heat remain on Maimane a little longer while his detractors are empowered by his embarrassment?
Trust is paramount
To regain the trust of all South Africans - especially those who have the power to move their money and skills abroad, thus contributing to a further erosion of the country’s tax base - South Africa needs leaders it can count on to do the right thing. Such leaders must not only be in the political arena but also in the corporate and other sectors.
Right now, one could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve entered a free-for-all zone where everyone stands for himself/herself and no one stands for anyone else, except if there is some gain to be had.
Mention a political leader who has fallen short of our expectations and someone will immediately mention, sometimes driven by defensive ‘whataboutism’, a corporate leader who has also failed us.
But both political greed and corporate greed must be rooted out and the country must return to the basics and agree on what is right and acceptable and what is wrong and punishable. Those who like to argue that we, the people, shouldn’t be looking to men and women in politics or business – or the business of politics – for leadership and solutions to the challenges we are currently facing, us are just idealists, and only partly correct.
We should not sit and do nothing, of course, and we should keep ourselves informed and never stop connecting the dots. But we should also be mindful and accept that all corporations are led just as all countries are led. And a country as complex as South Africa, with the bloody, hate and abuse-filled history that we have, has to be led.
Our systems; political, electoral and economic, are all structured to be led by men and women of substance. Those who stand up for leadership, be in politics or business, should therefore be held to high standards and reminded that the impact of their actions does not stop at their own door.
Mmusi Maimane might not be the heavyweight politician many observers keep reminding us he’s not, but he has been slowly finding his voice of late. Right now, he has been given a unique opportunity to demonstrate that he will not follow in the predictable footsteps of others in politics – the very people he spends much of his public time shouting at, in parliament, reminding them to do what is right for South Africa.
He must listen even to those who are said to be his detractors in his own party, to the extent that the questions they’re said to be asking him are valid and point to matters he needs to address honestly and transparently.
If he fails this test, he would have crossed a point of no return and will find it harder to look even the likes of Magashule, Malema, and Shivambu in the eyes and tell them "this far and no further" - as he should. He must do right for his party and for our politics. The spotlight is on him.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.