He's always been a guy who knows how to spring surprises.
Within six months of dating, he popped the question and eight months later they were married. On their wedding day nine years ago Natalie Maimane knew that life with her husband wouldn’t be dull – but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine he’d some day be heading for parliament after landing one of the most high-profile political party jobs in the country.
Mmusi and Natalie have been married for nine years and believe in maintaining good communication. PHOTO: Noncendo Mathibela
Back then Mmusi Maimane (34) hadn’t even entered politics. Yet after rapidly rising through the ranks he’s now been installed as parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Sitting on a couch next to her husband in his huge new office in parliament, Natalie (30) is still trying to get her head around all the changes that will be coming her way.
“We don’t know what this new life will be like,” she says. “I’m taking things one day at a time.” Mmusi’s appointment means she and their children, Kgalaletso (3) and Daniel (19 months), will be seeing less of him. Instead of moving to Cape Town where parliament is situated, they’re staying in Roodepoort, leaving the commuting to Dad. They believe this makes better sense as their family are in Gauteng to support Natalie while Mmusi gets to grips with his demanding new job. Although it’ll require adjustment, Mmusi reckons the family will manage because they share the same goal – to build a better South Africa. “The best advice I’ve ever been given is that as a family we must acknowledge we love our country and will serve it and its people. Then everything’s a privilege – it’s a privilege to lead, it’s a privilege to travel, it’s a privilege to be a member of parliament.”
We can hear their kids playing outside his office. Mmusi and Natalie have turned down our request to photograph the children because they don’t want to expose them too much. That’s also why they didn’t do interviews together in the run-up to the recent election.
“We didn’t want to use our marriage to win votes,” Mmusi says.
He hails from Dobsonville, Soweto, and she from Roodepoort – worlds apart and separated by a railway line. But life brought Mmusi and Natalie together at the Community Ministries church in Muldersdrift, north of Johannesburg, when Natalie was 15.
Neither of them recalls exactly when they met. “Clearly we didn’t make a big impression on each other,” she says, laughing.
“Don’t say that!” says Mmusi, feigning shock. “Come on, you can’t remember either,” she replies, and both burst out laughing while she puts her hand lovingly on her husband’s leg.
For years they were just good friends, she says, but out of the friendship grew love. “Let’s just say she was searching for a BEE partner,” Mmusi quips.
Natalie laughs, but adds more seriously that what made her really love the charming, good-looking guy from the other side of the tracks were his views on life, his commitment to South Africa and his warmth.
They were wed in the church where they’d met and the reception was held nearby.
“We had a white wedding on the Saturday and on the Sunday a traditional wedding in Dobsonville with a traditional shweshwe wedding dress and all,” Natalie says.
Her father runs his own building maintenance business and her mom does admin work for her family’s panelbeating business.
Mmusi’s dad works at a factory that makes locks and his mom is employed at a pharmaceutical company.
Both sets of parents welcomed the relationship but Mmusi admits his family were initially worried their white daughter-in-law, who has a degree in English and history from the former Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg), might be a bit posh.
But she made the effort to fit in with the family right from the start, he adds. “I realised they no longer saw Natalie’s colour when my grandmother took her to task for standing in line for food at a funeral reception, instead of helping the women to prepare the food, as happens in our culture.”
The families’ shared faith and churchgoing backgrounds helped a lot. “Your faith drives your beliefs, which tells you that racism is wrong,” Mmusi says. “One day we’ll write a book about relationships across the colour line,” Mmusi adds with a wink.
Mmusi and Natalie asked their children not be photographed
because they don’t want to expose them too much. PHOTO: Noncendo Mathibela
Before going into politics Mmusi was involved with a nonprofit organisation and did consultancy work for companies, helping them with strategy and developing leadership capacity.
He has two master’s degrees – one in theology from Wits and another in public and development management from Bangor University in North Wales, which he achieved through distance education.
But even with these qualifications, Mmusi still felt he lacked something – he wanted to do something more meaningful with his life.
“One day I was walking in Zandspruit township [in Gauteng] and saw a woman digging her own toilet. I thought that wasn’t right – not after years of democracy.”
Although he never joined the ANC he’d supported the liberation movement and was disturbed by the direction the party had taken.
In 2010 he joined the DA, determined to help to build a better South Africa. A year later he became the party’s national spokesman and last year he was its candidate for the premiership of Gauteng.
He dismisses suggestions that his skin colour had helped to speed up his rise through the party’s ranks. “I didn’t buy my degrees on the internet,” he says. “I worked damned hard for them. Anyone who claims I was appointed for my skin colour is insulting every successful, hardworking black man.”
His appointment as parliamentary leader came in the wake of Lindiwe Mazibuko’s surprise decision to step down from the position, amid claims that Mmusi was party leader Helen Zille’s preferred candidate.
But he diplomatically side-steps questions about his predecessor. “Lindiwe had a great opportunity to also run for parliamentary leader,” he says. “It was her choice not to run, like it was my choice to run.”
And now all eyes are on him. As the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly he’ll manage the DA’s parliamentary caucus and decide when to take on the ruling party.
How does he get on with Helen Zille – will he be drawing on her advice or do things his own way? “Helen’s a voice in the party,” he says. “She’s the leader of the party and has all the experience in the world. Why would I try to distance myself from that?
“I don’t need to try to prove that I’m my own person. I am my own person. My strategy will be to allow different opinions while leading – and Helen has her opinion.”
Natalie doesn’t mind that her handsome hubby has many admirers. “I’m not jealous because I know who he is and I know we’re together in this.”
They can laugh together, exchange special SMSes and share jokes. And Mmusi’s a romantic, she says.
“When I turned 30 he took me out specially for the night.” She adds that their kids love him and that he’s also a great dad.
“He isn’t afraid to discipline them but he’s also very loving.” He and Kgalaletso go out on “daddy dates” and he often wrestles with Daniel or plays with him in the garden.
Natalie taught at the Curro Aurora private school in Randburg but has put her career on hold to focus on their kids.
“No one forced me to be a stay-at-home mom – it’s something I really wanted to do,” she says. Does it mean the family might soon have another member?
“Certainly not intentionally,” she replies with a smile. It’s hard to imagine how Mmusi would fit baby duty into his gruelling schedule.
He has more than enough on his plate – juggling family duties and trying to build a South Africa in which people will never have to dig their own toilets again.