Mmusi, Herman need lessons
Mashaba and Maimane need to avoid the weakness that has afflicted all opposition parties since 1994: that of being simply anti-ANC.
Politics is a dirty game. Career politicians learn the dirty tricks of their trade and how to survive the power games that they play with each other. And, all too often, a well-meaning entrepreneur enters the political arena with the naive hope that the goodwill that carried them in business will follow them into the political world.
In local politics, such experiments have resulted in spectacular failures. Who can forget academic and businessperson Mamphela Ramphele’s spectacular entry into politics in the company of Helen Zille, who some comically claim owns the kiss of death for black politicians within the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Former Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba seems to have bucked the trend of businesspeople making a laughing stock out of themselves in local politics.
In traditional DA fashion, Mashaba was parachuted in to become mayor after the 2016 local government elections. He talks a good talk and is a practical man who focused on being hands-on instead of focusing on ideology. His practical approach to solving Joburg’s billing and infrastructural problems earned him the respect of those who are troubled by his clearly Afrophobic approach to immigration.
Now, he wants to launch a new party, together with former DA leader Mmusi Maimane, with whom he left the DA a few months ago.
SA has been ready for a new party since the days of the Congress of the People (Cope). Cope, mainly former disgruntled ruling party comrades, managed to grab 7% of the national poll. But it unravelled soon afterwards.
Mashaba and Maimane would do well to study Cope’s case closely. The lazy way out is to argue the fight between Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa killed the party. But a party based on solid, achievable principles would not collapse simply because two leaders are fighting. It was when the rest of the membership realised the only thing holding the party together was personalities, not values, that they deserted.
Mashaba and Maimane need to avoid the weakness that has afflicted all opposition parties since 1994: that of being simply anti-ANC and hoping the electorate will vote for them because they are fed up with the ruling party.
They cannot simply be anti-DA, either, because the segment of the electorate that displayed the most sympathy towards Maimane and Mashaba was the disillusioned black middle class. A politician needs more than sloganeering to win those minds over. They are intolerant towards ahistorical policies – that seek to ignore race realities – but are also fed up with leftist rhetorical ideology which only benefits looting politicians.
The biggest warning to Mashaba and Maimane as they push their People’s Dialogue agenda into 2020 is that they must not rest on their laurels, thinking the sympathy and goodwill they carried with them from the DA will automatically translate into votes.
They need to work hard to capture the votes that the ANC and DA keep shedding. Mashaba needs to learn that, as party leader, you can’t spew xenophobic bile and Maimane must learn that you can’t please all the people all the time.
SA needs a balanced party. But are Mashaba and Maimane ready to learn from the failures of Cope and Agang?