Musi Maimane: Leader with a small "l"

Eddie Maloka says the DA leader's speeches are clearly not his, and he doesn't seem to believe a word of what he says

It's now taken for granted that the speed of light is the fastest thing in the universe. But this may no longer be the case thanks to recent leadership developments in the Democratic Alliance (DA).  The days of Albert Einstein's famous E=mc2 may be numbered.

In its place a new theory is in the making which will likely read like: M2=GPl, to describe Mmusi Maimane's meteoric rise from obscurity, through Gauteng (G) where he did a short stint as councillor and ran as premier candidate with R100 million budget, to parliament (P) to replace Lindiwe Mazibuko who was given the boot. His election to DA party leader (l) is deliberately in small letter because it's unclear whether he is the leader with capital L.

Maimane is not where he is as a result of his own efforts or talent. He just happened to be at the right place at the tight time. The elephant in the room in the DA and its predecessor, the Democratic Party (DP), has always been how to attract Africans into the party without threatening the core character of the party as the representative of white minority interests. This issue was a source of divisions in the DP in the early 1990s to the extent that some of its members broke rank to join the ANC.

Tony Leon's leadership era partially suspended this debate largely because of the dismissive attitude of this leader towards this challenge.  Instead, he focused, and successfully so, on dethroning the National Party as the chief representative of white privilege. In the process he amassed the Afrikaner and Cape Coloured into the ranks of his party which hitherto was predominantly English.

He destroyed the NP and positioned himself as a voice against anything that threaten the privileges that whites accumulated during the colonial period. The Coloureds and Indians were brought in as junior partners into an alliance whose chief enemy are the African people and any attempt to reverse the legacy of apartheid.

The dilemma however has been the fact that no political party will ever win an election in South Africa without African support.

It was during Helen Zille's reign as DA leader that the party started tackling the elephant in the room, not through genuine action though, but by trying to push the elephant under the carpet. But the elephant is too big to hide, let alone squeeze under the carpet. This has been evident in how Zille has fumbled in trying to manoeuvre around the amorphous size of the elephant. 

She tried to repackage the DA as the mini-me copycat of the ANC, even looting the liberation movement for its struggle songs and heroes. The search for a model African was a top priority. Mazibuko was found, made and then thrown out when she tried to assert herself and raise an independent voice. The attempted marriage with Mamphela Ramphela was as brief as the show that was staged for public consumption. With the Mazibuko and Ramphela experiments having failed, a solution had to be found. Thus M2.

Characters like Wilmot James don't fit the specs. He's a professor - he knows too much! What you need is a black voice without its own vocal chords but just the hollowness to echo the master's voice.

Zille was ready to handover party leadership but, alas, only to herself! She's gone but still visibly present in how M2 is run and directed in the front seat he occupies in parliament. His speeches are clearly not his and are rehearsed likely in front of a mirror. He doesn't come across as his own voice. He's not convincing at all. He's not inspiring. His public speaking demeanour reminds me of my debating society days in high school.

He doesn't seem to believe a word of what he says. The evangelical priest in him gives him skills to pretend to be genuine but his history of having voted ANC before plus his Soweto background, give him away. He just can't stop praising Thabo Mbeki or Nelson Mandela. His heroes are not Helen Suzman, Colin Eglin or Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert.

Will he one day turn into a capital L? Maybe. But this will be a tall order. DA leaders are normally very strong and commanding. They lead committees and even set ideological direction for the Party. Leon did this exceptionally well. Zille was as powerful. But M2 doesn't even command his Caucus in parliament. From time to time, his colleagues there have to come to his rescue in a paternalistic and embarrassing manner. I don't wish to be in his shoes.

He could one day be his own man. He must start in parliament. He must be in charge, show the authority that comes with the front seat that he occupies. In the party, he must lead. He must set the ideology. He must determine his team. He must be the handler, not the other way around.

He needs to accept one truism experience has always proven correct - it's never wise for an African to seek fame or upward social mobility by seeking acceptance into white society. This never works. Whites' sense of superiority is many centuries old. It's not going to go away by simply marrying or befriending one of them. Racism is structural and entrenched in our society. It's global – its face is what we call the “West”. It's powerful and a source of power for those with the right skin colour.

M2 may not have the requite capacity to rise to the level of capital L. Four years in politics is not enough even for a crash course in leading at a lower level. But who knows - he may surprise all of us? He has already achieved the impossible - to beat the speed of light in a race.

His ascension to the throne of the DA is indeed an opportunity to liberate the party from the illiberal ideology developed during apartheid for the DA to be truly liberal. Leon anti-transformation dogma must go as it prevents the DA from playing a constructive role in constructing post-apartheid South Africa. Affirming and empowering historically disadvantaged people should not be dismissed as a form of racism or “Verwoerdian” as Leon and Zille used to do.

M2 could construct an ideology of liberalism that is progressively in sync with South Africa’s reality.  Our country and the ANC need a political alternative that poses a credible threat to the ruling party. But this alternative must accept and not question one non-negotiable - that South Africa must belong to all its people, not just to a handful of people who were privileged by the racist system of colonial oppression and exploitation.

Eddy Maloka is the author of Friends of the Natives: The Inconvenient Past of South African Liberalism