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Maimane reflects on one year as DA leader

According to Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Mmusi Maimane, the notion that only one racial group can be racist is untrue.

April 10 marks a year since Maimane was elected as the first black DA leader at the party’s elective congress in Port Elizabeth.

“Let us accept that the issue of racism is something that we can battle with as a country but to replace racism, you must not fall prey into what our political opponents want to say- that only a particular race can be racist and that politics are an expression of racists. They are not. You cannot say that black (people) are in this party and white people are in that party.”

You must understand the dream that President (Nelson) Mandela put forward- that of a non-racial South Africa. The DA is the only party that is building that diverse space to continue that dream. My jobs has been to ensure that we grow across all sectors but are able to maintain that vision of a non-racial South Africa,” says Maimane.

In an interview with the SABC news, Maimane spoke about the challenges he has been facing since his ascension as DA leader.

Assessing his leadership role in the DA over the last year, Maimane says, “It has been a privilege to lead the DA and I celebrate it because in many ways, we had to immediately get ourselves ready for elections. We had to immediately begin to make sure that the organisation is resourced.”

Maimane, dubbed the Barack Obama of Soweto, joined the DA in 2010 and quickly rose through the leadership ranks of the party.

One of his first national leadership roles in the party was his election to the position of DA Parliamentary leader in May 2014.

As Parliamentary leader, Maimane is heading a DA caucus of 89 Members of Parliament (MP) in the National Assembly. Close to 60 of the 89 DA MPs are white. Since his election as leader, Maimane has been on a road show to garner support through his vision 2029 programme.

Maimane says those who believe he takes instructions from Zille are the ones who believe that black people cannot think for themselves

One of the areas he visited during his road show was the community of Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats-an area under the control of the DA in Cape Town.

Maimane’s relationship with former DA leader Helen Zille continues to haunt him. He often faces criticism on social media and among political opponents that he is still being controlled and taking instructions from Zille before he takes decisions within the DA. However, Maimane says those who believe he takes instructions from Zille are the ones who believe that black people cannot think for themselves.

“We must fight against that as black people. If we keep that notion in place, we will be forever oppressed. We must rise up and say: “We are proud, we can lead.” I am not insecure, I am not worried. People want to perpetuate that stereotype because they are still enslaved to the past. As Steve Biko has said, “the greatest difficulty that we have got to fight against is the mind-set of the oppressed”. We have got to break that lose so that we can be free,” he says.

Under his leadership over the last year, Maimane’s DA has been rocked by racism scandals. The party also came under fire recently after a picture emerged depicting how black DA supporters were transported in a cattle truck to the party’s election manifesto launch. About this Maimane says a probe was underway. “We have been trying to establish the authenticity of the picture and its origins, and I am getting more evidence. These are not easy things to investigate.”

According to political analyst Ralph Mathekga, it has been a challenging year for Maimane since he took office. “I think it has been a difficult journey for him as the first black leader in a party that is understood to be traditionally white. First of all, he had to satisfy the general public outside the DA that he is worthy as a leader that is actually in a position to steer the party forward. Internally, he also has to deal with predominantly white dominant members of the DA who need to yield to him as a leader instead of second guessing him. It has been a very tough first year of that. I think that he has been trying by all means.”

Mathekga says one of the issues confronting Maimane is that of asserting his own political leadership style. “He needs to be strong with the position that he takes. He needs to be his own man. I found him recently to be enticed to look like other leaders. He has uttered some of the remarks that one would say is trying to emulate Julius to appear to be his own man, by way of borrowing that kind of disruptive radicalism that Julius Malema is known for. It just does not work within the tradition of the party. I think he needs to understand that he is deserving of that position and he needs to take his own path. He does not have to be Julius Malema. He does not have to be Zuma. He does not have to be anybody else. All he has to do is to be Mmusi and be happy with that.”

– By Mercedes Besent

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