They say he is too young for the post—only 34. And people smelled tokenism when this Soweto young man, married to a white South African, was overwhelmingly chosen to lead that country’s predominantly white but leading opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), next to the African National Congress (ANC).
He succeeds the DA’s outgoing chairperson, Madam Helen Zille, who may be the last Caucasian to head the party. She has long been wishing to transfer the leadership of this mostly white party to black leadership, probably in the hope that it can garner more blacks to their side and make a greater impact on South African politics.
She has made it known that the party would never be able to threaten the ANC’s grip on power unless it could stop appearing as a “white” party representing the interests of the white minority that had benefitted from decades of apartheid.
But though young, Mmusi Maimane is thankfully highly educated, with two Master’s degrees in Theology and Psychology. In addition, he is a fiery preacher who spends his weekends preaching in a Johannesburg church.
Mr. Maimane’s first test will be to withstand a fierce challenge from the ruling and hugely popular ANC. Helen Zille managed to gather an impressive number of parliamentary seats in the last elections. The new party leader faces the challenge of getting some of his partisans elected locally, to pave the way for the greater feat of increasing more DA numbers in Parliament.
He must take advantage of his youth by reaching out to the country’ young people, both black and white, and enlisting them in their tens or hundreds of thousands into the DA. This will help make South Africa truly a rainbow nation, in which its people, despite their race, can unite under one political umbrella and march together to meet the many challenges—cultural, political, social and economic—which this relatively new united nation faces.
The most serious challenge, clearly, lies in the economic realm, in which the real power is still wielded (brandished, exercised) by whites, who therefore control the economy. By bringing the two races into one political movement, just as he himself has done in his marriage, Mr. Maimane could help forge closer interracial relationships that could transcend politics and create business and economic alliances toward sharing the country’s enormous wealth and power.
This alone could attract more people to the party, for the new adherents (followers, devotees) would see the DA truly as a party of hope—hope in a more united, more just, more inclusive society in which whites and blacks are able to work together toward sharing the other race’s century-old position of power, privilege and wealth with the country’s broad, impoverished and underprivileged masses.
This is a challenge that the ruling African National Congress is yet to tackle, despite its 24 years in power. True, some ANC leaders have amassed wealth, but they are few. The vast majority of South Africans, which is black, still lives in slums and lack equitable access to sound nursery, primary and secondary education, well-paying jobs and other socioeconomic amenities.
By encouraging the economic and business alliances mentioned above, the DA could help change the country’s economic landscape by giving the ordinary South African a once unimaginable measure of hope in the future of the country.