What the DA's Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle Tells Us

2015-06-23 14:36

Last week, DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen announced small changes to the DA’s Shadow Cabinet. Most notably senior DA MP, and Wilmot James’ unsuccessful leadership campaign manager, David Maynier, was moved from defence to finance; while newcomer, Michael Cardo, was moved to Economic Development.

Gareth Van Onselen, a fierce critic of incumbent DA Leader Mmusi Maimane (who beat Maynier’s man in the May election), praised the decision. He credited it for showing political maturity and signalling the DA’s attempt to make its own voice heard on the economic agenda. Given Van Onselen’s scathing critiques of Maimane (whom he dubbed ‘‘the hollow man’’), and Maynier’s predecessor, Dr Dion George (whom he accused of being ‘‘the shadow man’’), this is high praise.

The new Shadow Finance Minister has much work to do. The mundanity of finance policy, generally, and the DA’s often-confused messages, specifically, made George’s life difficult.  But, as Van Onselen notes, Maynier is an excellent parliamentarian and, if he is successful, the DA and South Africa will benefit for it.

Maimane’s move is shrewd for two reasons. Both deserve praise.

Firstly, Maynier is likely to succeed. He is respected for his mastery of detail. So too, for his media nous. While George may have been well-versed in the policy substance, he lacked the media sizzle. Maynier combines both. Maimane knows that. Given his public pronouncements, it’s clear that economic issues is where he wants to build his legacy. Maimane will hope that with Maynier’s gravitas his agenda will come to dominate the public space. Much like Helen Zille did before crucial elections in 2006 in Cape Town and again in 2009 in the Western Cape, defining the environment is a crucial step to unseating an unpopular government.

Secondly, Maimane knows finance is a poisoned chalice. The DA is often accused of being better at implementing ANC polices than thinking of its own. Whether this is true is irrelevant. So Maynier, a well-known ally of possible Maimane rival, Lindiwe Mazibuko, has an unenviable task. Succeed and bolster the career he may not support or fail and destroy his own reputation and face the axe.

Either way, it’s a clever bit of strategy from Maimane. He gains the benefits but bears none of the risk. Presidents are ruthless by their nature. The better ones are able to balance self- and national-interest. One wonders whether promoting Maynier is a start.

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