This is the article that appeared in YOU that same year.
Natalie Maimane knows life as the DA leader’s wife won’t be normal – but ‘normal doesn’t change the world’. PHOTO: Lubabalo Lesolle
He's become such a familiar face on television his kids often want to switch channels when they see him holding forth on some complex political topic. Seems the novelty of seeing their dad on TV has worn off for the Maimane kids – these days they just wish he’d come home to eat ice cream with them or kick a ball in the garden.
Nobody ever said it would be easy – as one of the Democratic Alliance’s high-flyers Mmusi Maimane was always on the go but now that he’s been elected to replace Helen Zille as party leader – one of the most demanding political jobs in South Africa – things have cranked up to a whole new level of crazy.
For his wife, Natalie (31), it means being alone at home for sometimes as long as 10 days at a stretch, being content to talk to him on Skype rather than face to face, and often having to wipe away her kids’ tears when Dad departs on yet another trip.
But, hey, she’s not complaining. “It’s not a normal existence but normal doesn’t change the world,” she says. Right from the start she knew Mmusi (34) was someone who wanted to make a difference.
She was 15 when their paths first crossed in church in Muldersdrift, Gauteng. Even back then she could see he was destined for big things. And now it seems his time has come.
“There’s something in me that sort of ignites when I think about it,” she says. “The vision and love we have for South Africa can
be realised. That’s an incredible privilege. Not a lot of people can find a vehicle for their big dreams in a way we have been able to do.”
Mmusi and Natalie on and their wedding day. Mmusi proposed to her just six months after they started dating. PHOTO: Supplied
Big dreams often require big sacrifices. Natalie gave up her job as a high school teacher in 2011 to be a full-time mom to Kgalaletso (4) and Kgosi (2). But she has no regrets about standing back to allow her husband’s career to take centre stage.
“I don’t have a problem with being referred to as Mmusi’s wife – I am his wife,” she says. “I feel his success is my success.”
Maybe this is why she’s able to give him the space to do what he needs to do. “We’ve learnt to go on with life without him,” Natalie says. “You get certain seasons when you make sure as much as possible that you include one another in family life.
And then there are seasons when you just have to go, ‘We’ll carry on and when we see you it will be a nice surprise’. And at the moment it’s like that; when he comes home it’s great but we can’t count on him to be there at a certain time.”
Mmusi and Natalie pictured during our first interview with them in 2014. PHOTO: Noncendo Mathibela
Around this time last year they were still celebrating Mmusi’s elevation to DA parliamentary leader. Back then the couple were in high spirits as they chatted to us in his huge new office in parliament.
But today Natalie is on her own as we catch up with her at a coffee shop on the West Rand in Gauteng.
Mmusi had just got to grips with his new job in parliament when Helen Zille announced she was ready to bow out as leader of the party after an eight-year tenure.
Even though Mmusi seemed the obvious choice as replacement Natalie says they had to seek guidance from their family and
church community before he announced his entry into the leadership race.
“It’s not something we hadn’t thought about but the fact that it was happening so soon was the factor,” she adds. It took a lot of soul-searching, she tells us between sips of mocha latte.
“We wouldn’t do anything that we felt wasn’t going to be good for our faith, family and nation.”
Mmusi was already away from home a lot but they knew that taking over from Zille would place even more demands on his time.
He commutes between their home in Roodeport and Cape Town for parliamentary engagements, and also travels extensively to
attend rallies. This can take him away from home for days on end.
He’s an incredibly busy person. He gets so much done in the day it’s mind-blowing,” Natalie says. “He could be in any number
of provinces in one day. He’s known for calling early morning meetings and working late into the evening.
“When he’s in Cape Town he maximises his time there so he can draw back when he’s at home.”
While he’s back home his focus is always on spending quality time with his family. Natalie says he’ll often go out into the garden to kick a soccer ball with Kgosi or take the children out for ice cream so she can take a nap.
Then when the kids are in bed he and Natalie have a chance to catch up. And as they chat the conversation often turns to politics.
“It’s part of our lives, it’s his job and his passion,” she says. “It’s kind of seasonal but at the moment it dominates conversation and rightly so – it’s a significant time of our lives at this stage.”
The couple enjoy the simple things in life – like sitting down to supper together or watching a silly comedy.
“We love to laugh. He often WhatsApps me funny clips that appeal to me.”
The Maimanes don’t have permanent help at home so when Mmusi is away Natalie relies mostly on friends and family. Her
parents, Bev and Taff Thomas, often come over in the evenings to bring supper and help with the kids.
Still, there are times when Natalie desperately misses Mmusi and wishes he could spend more time at home. “I miss his company. There’s no one who can replace that connection with my partner.”
Over the years she’s developed a coping mechanism that helps her when she’s feeling down. “I surround myself with friends and family in order to keep my soul fuelled and I spend time reading the Bible.
“I don’t get it right all the time, that’s for sure, but I love what Mmusi brings to our country and I want our family to support him.”
She says from early on she made a conscious decision to prioritise her marriage. “The best gift I can give to my children is to love their father,” she says.
She makes sure Mmusi is always in her thoughts, even when he’s away. “That can simply entail buying the cereal he likes or stocking his favourite coffee.”
The couple, who got together in their early twenties after a five-year friendship, recently celebrated their 10th anniversary. On Twitter Natalie described him as “the real deal” and was vocal in her support of him after an email surfaced implicating senior DA members in a sex scandal.
“That’s not even an issue,” she says. More of a worry for her is how their interracial marriage is sometimes used by Mmusi’s
critics to question his African identity.
“If this challenges people, so be it,” she says. “He’s an incredible man, my best friend and the love of my life.”
Another issue that’s of concern to the couple is their children’s privacy. They’re determined to keep them out of the spotlight.
“They’re really cute and a few shots of the kids can warm people’s heart but they’re not pawns in this whole thing . . . they just need to be kids,” Natalie says.
But she knows as Mmusi’s wife she won’t be able to avoid the limelight. Determined to stand by her man, she’s undergoing coaching to equip her for life in the public eye. These days she often has to accompany him to important events. “We often joke about it and Mmusi will say, ‘Don’t say I don’t take you anywhere’. It’s like our date night.”
Dressing up isn’t something she’s entirely comfortable with. She’s a bargain shopper, she says, pointing to her black Mr Price skinny jeans. “But I do love a good pair of shoes.”
She has great admiration for American first lady Michelle Obama. “It’s obvious that she and her husband, Barack Obama, are
partners in whatever they do.”
Although Natalie doesn’t know what the future holds she feels she does have a voice and a story to tell. “That’s why I created a
public Twitter account,” she says. “I feel I do have something to say and contribute.”
But right now her main focus is her husband and children. “They need me the most at this stage.”
*This story first appeared in YOU in May 2015