Talking to the DA’s Mmusi Maimane
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.