Maverick Interview: The DA’s Makashule Gana
In a Democratic Alliance regional office in Johannesburg, party members, mostly young and black, have just finished a session of their political school. The décor is blue. Election material is strewn in adjacent rooms. The fallout of Lindiwe Mazibuko’s decision not to return to Parliament worsened this weekend with Sunday Times claiming party leader Helen Zille said she “made” Mazibuko. GREG NICOLSON sat down with the DA's Deputy Federal Chairperson Makashule Gana to talk about the elections, Mazibuko, his own prospects, transformation in the party, and the EFF.
Let’s start with the DA’s performance in the elections. How do you think you went?
I believe we did well, especially the growth we have shown, and in Gauteng where we are going to increase our public representatives, the MPLs. We had 16; now we have 23, which is a good increase. Obviously I’m a bit disappointed, especially in the townships where we seem to have lost potential support to the EFF. That in itself says we must work more and that’s why you see the political school – the people that come here come from those areas. So we’re looking at how best we can help maintain and increase our support in those areas.
I can’t pretend I’m happy that in many townships, especially in Gauteng, we’re trailing the EFF. That’s not a good thing. We need to work on that and empowering our activists on the ground is a good start. I’m so happy with the political school and the people that have come through and I believe that with time we should be able to neutralise any new parties that come up in such areas.
Overall, we could have done a bit more. We could have pushed a bit more but we need capabilities [more party activists] to do that and I guess sometimes you have to accept that you don’t have enough capabilities to push as hard as we wished to.
From an outsider’s perspective, one of the DA’s broader goals seemed to be to confront the idea that it’s a white party that will bring back Apartheid, reducing the influence of identity politics in future elections. Have these elections helped overcome those perceptions?
It’s a work in progress. I don’t think you can look at one election and say what we intended to do, but it’s more like we want to represent the aspirations of all South Africans and I will not say we are there, but we are moving closer to getting there.
That’s a work in progress. I’m happy with the movement that we have done. The hardcore supporters in the townships, even with the ANC squeeze, they remained. I mean people who even when you had a lot of multitudes of ANC supporters, they said, “You know what, I remain DA and I’ll wear my DA t-shirt with pride.”
That for me is a very important development and something that is crucial, that you have people that are going to be resisting to be swayed by the ANC machinery. If we’re able to build on that towards 2016 I have all the belief that we will be able to win Johannesburg. My sense is that our target for 2016 should not be to bring the ANC below 50% in Johannesburg but our target should be to win Johannesburg, because I believe if we all work towards that we can achieve it.
To get there what must you do to better represent the aspirations of the majority of South Africans?
We have to be in those communities. We have to start being seen as leaders in those communities, especially in your township, informal settlement areas where the EFF seems to have been viewed by a significant number of people as their representatives. We need to be able to gain that ground to emerge as the true leaders in those communities in the lead-up to 2016. That means our leaders must come from there, come from the grass roots and they must be seen to be unashamedly DA.
What’s your take on Lindiwe Mazibuko’s decision not to contest the parliamentary leadership and instead go to the US study?
Obviously, personally I’m a bit sad that we’re losing someone with a lot of potential, a lot of leadership qualities like her. But I trust that when she comes back – not if she comes back, because I believe she’ll come back – she’ll come back as someone who will continue to lead the DA wherever we ask her to lead the DA. Because the members of the organisation must ask you to [lead].
The members must ask and I trust that our members still adore Lindiwe, they love her and they believe that she’ll come back and she’ll continue to lead the DA in ensuring that we continue to represent aspirations.
Some people believe she doesn’t intend to return to the party but said it to lessen the negative effects it might have on the DA.
No, no, I talk to Lindiwe. I talk to her very often and when she made that decision we had a lengthy conversation where we kind of said, “What then becomes her role now that she is the US?” There’s nothing that says she’s just saying that just to get out of it. I mean even when I spoke to her last week she was totally committed to the project of ensuring that we build the kind of South Africa where each one will be able to realise their dreams. For me that’s key.
We talk on all range of issues; some of the things we talk about are not even political. People sometimes think we only talk politics. That’s the unfortunate thing with people who analyse this thing. It’s like Lindiwe does not exist if she’s not a politician. Whereas Lindiwe existed before she was a politician. There’s the Lindiwe, the person. And now, what contributes to Lindiwe the person to succeed to build her own life beyond politics? Even Gana exists outside politics. I have a family; I’ve got many things. That’s the unfortunate thing in how people analyse this and interpret this.
For me, I looked at Lindiwe in her entirety as a politician, as a person, her personal aspirations, which might not be politics or career wise. She might want to start a family. Has anyone ever thought this might be an opportunity for her to take some time off, start a family and then have things like that?
What sort of advice did you give her when you talked about these issues?
I advised her she must take her time, enjoy herself, and forget a bit about politics and the infighting that goes on. And she must start a family. I would love her to start a family so that she can enjoy the things that are meaningful to all of us that are not in the political arena.
She knows even now if I call her I will ask her, “Hey, have you found that guy or that whoever your partner is that you’re going to start a family with?” Because for me that’s key. Sometimes we don’t look at that and I would like her to start a family. I’ve [said], you know what, when you come back you must not have breaks so you come in for three years then you have breaks as you want to start a family. Now is the opportunity to do all the things that you were not able to do in the last five to seven years because you were so busy with politics that you kind of neglected your own life in a way.
The fallout, at least in the media where the Sunday Times headline was about Helen Zille saying she “made” Lindiwe, and the opinion piece by Gareth van Onselen and response from Gavin Davis, seems to have harmed the party.
Yeah, I can’t pretend I’m happy with what’s happening. It’s something that I look back and I say, “Did it have to come to this?” I’m so sad.
But I guess that maybe it will give us an opportunity to reflect. Maybe that’s what we have become, but I don’t believe this is the best that the DA can offer. I believe we can do much better than what’s happened in the last week. It’s sad. You know when you’ve given as much as you can and then you see these things.
You know I’ve been quiet; people say things. I haven’t even tweeted about this because it hurts me. Even when I was explaining to the guys [in the political school], yeah, it hits me, but hey, we’ll soldier on.
I always say I’m not doing this for my own personal thing. I’m doing this because I love this country. If I didn’t love this country, I didn’t believe that this country needs a different kind of a politician that’s selfless that’s going to ensure that everything we aspire to is achieved and we work towards that I wouldn’t be doing this. I’m doing this because I love South Africa. I love the DA and that’s something that unfortunately you can’t take away – love, even when something goes wrong.
Maybe when the opportunity arises I will take time off and be able to reflect on the past seven days. Because it’s just very sad. That’s all that I can say about the last seven days – very sad.
Is factionalism tearing the party apart?
I don’t know what it is. Honestly, I don’t. I guess when one has reflected, when one has looked into this, maybe remove myself and say, “Was this the best that possibly could have happened after a good showing, after four million people have given us their trust?”
They’ve said, “You might not have won in my area, but with my vote I trust that you are going to ensure that when you go to Parliament, when you go to your provincial legislature, you ensure that things work in this country. You might not be a government, but please hold the government accountable for me because I’m putting my trust in you.”
For those four-million-plus people who might be reading these headlines, I will not lie and say that’s a good picture. I don’t think anyone of that four million expected to see such kind of headlines a week after elections.
But we have to regroup. We have to do this not for our own personal gains but for South Africa and we should come together as leaders and be able to say we need to do much more than what we’ve done in the last seven days. It’s not a good picture. It’s not something that in my wildest dreams I thought we’d get there. It’s just sad.
Talking about regrouping and looking to the future, obviously you need a new Parliamentary leader. What sort of person needs to be appointed or that the party should be looking at?
The Parliamentary leader, in the absence of the party leader not being in Parliament, is not appointed; it has to be elected by members of the caucus. I put my trust in the members of the caucus [….] There’s a particular leader that we want and that leader has to come amongst us and amongst ourselves we are going to elect that leader.
As one of the party’s leaders, will you put your name in the ring for the Parliamentary leadership race? (It’s been reported that in party meetings Gana said he might go for the position.)
People have speculated as to whether I’m in the running or not and my response to that is there is no race. There is no race.
But there are nominations.
Nominations are not open. I emphasise that I will not just go there, jump up and down and say, “Look at me, I’m Gana,” and so forth. Members that have been elected, they know the kind of leadership they want and when nominations have opened, if members come to me and say, “Gana, for whatever reason, we believe that you must take this position or go there,” I must listen and I must be able to interact to say, “How do we then do this? Is it me you want or is it a particular objective you want to achieve?”
I always say we get into positions because members entrust us with their support and they come to us and say, “We believe you must avail yourself for whatever reason,” then we discuss those reasons and it could be that at the time that they come to me when we are discussing, maybe another name comes up, maybe my name remains there. If that happens and we agree, whatever we agree on that’s what gets done.
The process you’re talking about sounds very democratic but there is speculation that Helen Zille favours Mmusi Maimane and therefore he’s a shoo-in. That sounds like a very top-down approach.
I always say we have processes and sometimes you might have a wish for person X to take position B and so forth, but members, deep down, they know what they want, and they are going to express their wishes. What we need to do is to respect their wishes because that’s what democracy is. You might not like the outcome but you need to respect what members want.
Members in that caucus, each one of them has got a particular view in terms of what kind of leader they want and they’re going to make their view heard. Helen is part of the caucus, she can have her view. If members agree they will go with it. If they don’t they will go with what they believe is right. Obviously, such things happen and I trust in the processes and one thing I’ve learned in this organisation is the members know what kind of leaders they want.
One of the issues that’s also come up in the last seven days, as it often does with the DA, is whether the party has done enough to transform internally and with leadership in terms of racial transformation. Will that play a role in this nomination and selection process and has the party done enough?
I believe we need to do more. That’s why someone like me who’s passionate about the organisation, passionate about South Africa, has a political school. Because I cannot sit here and say we have a leader in every community. I want a leader in every community. I want us to say, “You know what, I’m sitting here, I’m comfortable in the members that we have now without shifting anyone can be able to run Johannesburg without anyone leaving their position where they are.”
Sometimes the conversation is, you know, the DA, they don’t have enough black leaders. That assumes you’ve got an oversupply of white leaders or Indian leaders or coloured leaders, and I say we need leaders from all walks of life because we don’t have enough and I want to see a lot more of them coming to the fore.
Maybe that’s an opportunity that one in the immediate [future] (before my long reflection which I cannot do while there are a lot of these political things happening; I believe I need a week away from politics altogether; my political phone needs to be off so I’ll be able to reflect on what’s happening and come up more refreshed and so forth) but that for me [to] look at this and say, “What is the opportunity from this?”
Yes it’s sad that [Mazibuko’s] leaving but the opportunity is that maybe we need to discuss leadership from all walks of life. Do we have enough? Do we need to do more? What do we need to do to ensure that we create a platform for leaders to come. DM
This is an edited version of the interview conducted with Gana on Sunday in Johannesburg.
Photo: Makashule Gana (Greg Nicolson)