Talk­ing to the DA’s Mmusi Maimane

Finweek English Edition - - LOCAL - Liesl Peyper lieslp@fin­week.co.za

Q: Who is Mmusi Maimane?

A: I’m a Sowe­tan, born to two in­cred­i­ble peo­ple. My par­ents both moved to Jo’burg from other prov­inces. When­ever I ref lect on apartheid I re­alise it af­fected them to a large de­gree. As for study­ing, it hap­pened in Soweto for most of my life. I did a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy, then got in­volved in com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment and then did a mas­ter’s in the­ol­ogy and then a mas­ter’s in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion. Be­ing national spokesper­son for the DA con­sumes me and takes up most of my time.

Q: How did you end up in the DA of all places?

A: Any­one who grows up in a town­ship’s po­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion starts from the left with the view of the lib­er­a­tion nar­ra­tive. My whole en­gage­ment with pol­i­tics came from what the most ef­fi­cient ways of ser­vice de­liv­ery are and how we can deal with un­em­ploy­ment. And it be­came very clear to me that a one-party sys­tem is not a sus­tain­able model. I’m not con­vinced that par­ties find re­birth within them­selves – you need to re- ori­en­tate a move­ment for that. I then en­gaged a lot of par­ties and found that the lead­er­ship of the DA – the will­ing­ness to en­gage, the will­ing­ness to learn and to say what we need to do here – re­ally cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion. It was in­deed a brave choice in some ways. When the f irst num­ber of posters with my face on them (he was the DA’s may­oral can­di­date for the Jo’burg Metro in the 2011 lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions) ap­peared, peo­ple looked at it and said: “Well, that’s in­ter­est­ing.”

Q: Do you hon­estly think young poor, un­em­ployed black peo­ple can iden­tify with you?

A: This is a very aca­demic ques­tion. We must ask our­selves what young South Africans want when they de­cide whether a po­lit­i­cal party is the right one for them. I think most po­lit­i­cal par­ties are con­cerned with un­em­ploy­ment and the re­struc­tur­ing of the econ­omy, etc. So that must be one fac­tor but not the only one. Do you fol­low Julius Malema be­cause he speaks in a par­tic­u­lar ac­cent? And does that make him more black? That can’t be the only fac­tor. Thirdly, do young South Africans feel you un­der­stand the his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive? Hav­ing grown up in a four­roomed RDP house helps me to un­der­stand what the is­sue is. I ac­cept I’m not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, in fact, that’s not the goal. But Julius Malema was a key rea­son why I de­cided to get in­volved in pol­i­tics. I thought to my­self, if he can stand up for th­ese is­sues, why can’t I?

Q: Sto­ries fea­tured in the me­dia that DA mem­bers of the Joburg Metro wanted you re­moved as cau­cus leader…

A: That was most un­for­tu­nate. In fact, I’m still slightly ir­ri­tated by it. My con­clu­sion was: it’s “elec­tioni­tis” at its best. There is a cam­paign in Gaut­eng about the se­lec­tion of pre­mier can­di­dates and lead­er­ship po­si­tions. Cer­tain peo­ple fo­cus their en­tire lives on that – and some­times to the detri­ment of the job. In truth, I’ve never come out and said I’d stand as pre­mier can­di­date. That’s a de­ci­sion I’ll pro­long and see what hap­pens. Our job is to win Gaut­eng.

Q: Isn’t win­ning Gaut­eng a pie in the sky?

A: It’s go­ing to be a hard push. Our first ob­jec­tive is to push the ANC be­low 50% next year and I think that’s at­tain­able. And as far as many of the prov­inces go, I think the ANC is vul­ner­a­ble. Gaut­eng has a new cock­tail – t here’s a new dy­namic of vot­ers. I’m not con­vinced we will win out­right, but we’ll have to push the ANC.

Q: With you as the DA’s Gaut­eng pre­mier can­di­date?

A: No comment.

Q: Do you get the im­pres­sion some of the older DA mem­bers, es­pe­cially in Gaut­eng, are jeal­ous of you?

A: You know, pol­i­tics is a game of en­trepreneurs and po­lit­i­cal par­ties have the

po­ten­tial to do great things, but they also at­tract peo­ple who are am­bi­tious by na­ture and who want to get some­where. I wel­come com­pe­ti­tion as it at­tracts the best peo­ple. It can only ben­e­fit the DA. There is a prob­lem though when peo­ple get into the ring and don’t play fairly. That’s the down­side of pol­i­tics, which I don’t en­joy. So if you ask me if there are peo­ple who are jeal­ous – I’d say there are peo­ple who are com­pet­i­tive. How they com­pete some­times is tricky.

Q: Some claim that you haven’t gone through the proper chan­nels and that Helen Zille parachuted you in…

A: What are the proper chan­nels? If it means join­ing the party as a mem­ber and join­ing a branch – well, I’ve done that. What peo­ple are try­ing to jux­ta­pose is if there are proper chan­nels I should be a branch mem­ber for t wo years and then I may avail my­self. But that’s ANC mind­set was you should be a branch mem­ber for t wo years and then if they like you enough they can pro­mote you to some­place else. But the DA ar­gues for an open op­por­tu­nity, and be­ing f it for pur­pose.

What then be­comes ab­nor­mal about my com­ing into the party? When they asked if there were any can­di­dates who would avail t hem­selves for may­oral can­di­date (be­fore the 2011 lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions), I ap­plied and was suc­cess­ful. To be parachuted in would be to sug­gest some­one over­rode all the sys­tems of the party and said Maimane wil l be t his, or t hat. This would un­der­mine the very essence of com­pe­ti­tion. We must com­pete. In an en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­vi­ron­ment you must be will­ing to say there must be equal and fair com­pe­ti­tion. If not, we’re just like the ANC.

Q: A while back you had a very pub­lic tiff with the “Sushi King” Kenny Kunene on Twit­ter. Do you re­gret it?

A: Not at all. Kenny Kunene was on a ra­dio show in which he dis­played his op­u­lent wealth, but I didn’t feel I needed to at­tack him per­son­ally. In a col­umn for the Sun­day World I built the case around role mod­els and then pro­ceeded to quote him. What was dis­gust­ing was his re­sponse, though. Q: Who’s your hero? A: My hero – and it has be­come so more through the years – is a Catholic nun, called Sis­ter Christina Mot­loung. She was the prin­ci­pal of the school I went to. She also was an ANC ac­tivist. We only found out when t he po­lice came to our school to raid her of­fice for doc­u­ments.

As a pupil, I left for school at 07:00 in the morn­ing and got back at 17:00. I’d spend the af­ter­noons in her off ice. Here was a nun who in­sisted we look at the world crit­i­cally and dif­fer­ently and in ret­ro­spect she sin­gu­larly has had a ma­jor inf lu­ence in the way I view jus­tice and democ­racy be­cause she fought for that. Coin­ci­den­tally she shared a prison cel l with [Gaut­eng pre­mier] Nomvula Mokonyane. Sis­ter Mot­loung man­aged to in­te­grate her faith into her pol­i­tics be­cause she wanted to stand for in­tegrit y and truth. She’s one of the peo­ple who helped me to re­think the world. Re­gret­tably, she passed away a year and half ago.

Q: Does your fu­ture in­clude pol­i­tics?

A: My fu­ture plans are not sep­a­rate to South Africa. I love this coun­try. I’m in­vested here. I have two kids who must grow up here. They give me the con­vic­tion to get up in the morn­ing when I some­times think to my­self: ‘I don’t want to do this any­more.’ As a fam­ily we think there’s a role we can play and con­trib­ute to this coun­try. We come from a mixed-race home and there’s a dis­course here: I don’t want my kids to be judged by the colour of their skin. My roles will change, but my con­vic­tions re­main the same.

His photo may soon ap­pear on ev­ery street pole in Gaut­eng. His name is Mmusi Maimane, national spokesman for the Demo­cratic Al­liance (DA) and most likely the party’s can­di­date for Gaut­eng pre­mier in next year’s elec­tion. Fin­week posed ques­tions to the enig­matic thirty three year old fa­ther of two whose po­lit­i­cal ca­reer is def­i­nitely in the fast lane.

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