Mmusi Maimane: An Encouraging Sign

2015-05-10 12:17

The interesting thing about Mmusi Maimane’s success story is found in its inspirational value: in the history of politics in South Africa Mmusi Maimane appears to have made the fastest stride from zero to "stardom” within a short space of time.

Mmusi Maimane is of the same age wavelength with Julius Malema. But Julius Malema started his fast paced politics at the age of 8 and rose slowly through the ANC ranks. You can say correctly that it took Malema more than 25 years to be where he is now.

The speed which Mmusi Maimane travelled to political power is without precedent.

What or who inspired Mmusi Maimane? From what source and audacity did he derive courage?

This Friday and Saturday I was in Soweto, in Meadowlands. Knowing for sure I am going to write something about the election of Mmusi Maimane as DA Leader  I kept thinking about it in the background, as I was with the people there.

Finally a thought came to me. Mmusi Maimane has made it his story that he comes from Dobsonville. He has consistently made Soweto, Dobsonville the centrality of his story in every turn he made. This tagline that he carries around has helped position him as a grass-roots insurgent – a man from Dobsonville.

So I wanted to test him among the people of Dobsonville. On Saturday I decided to go to Dobsonville which is just 3 kilometres from Meadowlands when you via Forbes Road.

Dobsonville as a location of my field work provided me with an important context. How do the people of Dobsonville react to Mmusi Maimane as DA Leader?

My fieldwork was not pro-Mmusi Maimane but pro-information and pro-learning.

In the course of my full half day stay in Dobsonville I visited hair dressing salons, motor car spare parts junkyards, mechanic garages, the barber shops, jazz houses. I went to crowded taxi ranks and noisy welding shops.

The 2015 Dobsonville has divorced itself from its old, witty stronghold that was dominated by Tswana people. It has loosen up into a pulsating, vibrant, promising metropolis of melting pot configuration where Tswanas, Zulus, Xhosas, Pedis and so on interact.

Dobsonville is a new narrative of a healthy mix of tribal conurbations. Dobsonville is the mecca of Soweto with is sprawling shopping centre with more than 70 retail shops.

One of the special joys of my time in Dobsonville was when I talked with an energetic old man who owns scrap metal shop. In physique he was rather smallish in stature, but he projected a goodly patriarchal fatherly disposition on me. He was an old man but age did not scorch him; it rather illuminated him and gave him an aura of wisdom.

Speaking in urbane Tswana the old man related to me about the meaning of the name Mmusi. Mmusi is in reference to a protective watchful person, a person who brings comfort and protection to a vast number of people. The name is Tswana and it means a person who leads – kingship - a person who governs and controls wisely.

He continued: The origin of the name Mmusi means a leader who is an authoritative guide who has traveled the path ahead and now comes back to the rest of the group and offers advice and wisdom on how to navigate the hostile terrain ahead, providing advice on how to deal with natural predators, deliverance from disease and affliction, and methods for a reliable supply of food and water.

I interjected and said, perhaps that is the reason why Mmusi Maimane achieved phenomenal success at this record time – because he wanted to really live his name. He must have studied what his name meant like all of us do and try to patterned himself after his meaning.

The old man responded: ja, ja, ja.

……..we both got into silent as if in deep thinking……

The old man then continued: the concept of mmusi as a leader is taken from the role of the shepherd. The shepherd leader is a person who guides others not through commands but only counsels.

But if one sheep is ill-disciplined the shepherd leader takes a big stick and whips it, and I don't think Mmusi Maimane has that stick. As he said that he roared with laughter. I got infected and roared with laughter too.

The power of a name and its value to the person has long been immortalized in prose, poetry, and religious ceremonies throughout the history of all races of humankind.

Another lived conversation I had was with a woman at the Dobsonville Shopping Centre, talking to her about Mmusi Maimane as the Leader of DA she retorted: "Do you think if Maimane got elected as DA Leader whites will change overnight drop their racism and hate, and we hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' and we all march as one big happy family? That is not in the cards”’!

My notes from my fieldwork fills almost half of  a thick A4 notebook.

Looking at my notes there was no denying that, while people are livid and upbeat about DA and Mmusi Maimane, the impression or sense I got was that DA has not yet achieve that much needed heartfelt fire spitting and rock splitting engagement that you get when you talk to people about ANC or EFF.

What the DA has the EFF lacks. What the EFF has the DA lacks. The EFF has of recent being rustic in its internal dynamics but it appears that they are slowly overcoming those problems. DA is a great well-oiled strong institution. Of course this is because of money.

EFF has the abilities …. Its agilities and grassroots power is sheer. With one act it takes the eyes and ears of the entire nation. It connects and attaches itself with the communities very well. It has deepen itself and lodged into the hearts of people. DA lacks in those crucial aspects.

Emotions and feelings not intellectual talk win elections. Emotions and feelings can be shared and create a blind faith. Intellectual mental talk merely invites arguments and debates.

There is much work to be done by DA to burn the coals and kindle them within these communities. Not that the fire is not there at all, but they need to kindle the fire into a roaring flame. It has to add a bit of brashness to their politics.

If they think they will fool Black communities by merely electing a Black leader then they must know the joke is on them.

Mmusi Maimane must know (he must know already) that the attacks are coming. South Africa contains one of the staunchest diehard political supporters in the world. Overzealous party supporters will not be sleeping. Waxing with perverse energy they are going to manufacture images and stories, and upload them on Facebook. They know that the gullible are always in large supply on Facebook.

The party dogs will attack Mmusi Maimane of suffering from kwashiorkor to cancer, and heap all kinds of allegations. They will accuse Mmusi Maimane of addiction to bleaching, engagement in adultery and being a sell-out.

It is often said one must not respond to attacks on media so as not to dignify those attacks. But in today’s social media nasty charges and distortions of statements left unchallenged can multiply developing feedback loops and amplify themselves until they appear as truth.

From the very beginning of our new democracy in 1994 we had this notion that the South African story is a special story that is emerging and different from other nations. We wanted to cut our own narrative. Our story was envisioned on the hopes of non-racialism and unity. We looked everywhere to all the nations of the world but could not find examples. But still we persisted as stubborn believers in a will-o-the wisp.

So it might be that the election of Mmusi Maimane is not that significant but at least it makes us to reflect on our failed national narrative of non-racialism.

Is this the destiny of Mmusi Maimane to be a shepherd leader as the old man from Dobsonville talked to me during my fieldwork? As a shepherd leader what will he guide and counsel the 4 million strong DA and the wider South African society on? I believe that Mmusi Maimane will, to a degree, help in narrowing the great wedge, this great gulf between black and white humanity of South Africa? If not practically then definitely symbolically.

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