South Africa

Maimane, Bloom and the DA’s Gauteng race

By Greg Nicolson 1 August 2013

The Democratic Alliance (DA) wants to win Gauteng in the 2014 elections and entries have closed for candidates hoping to be premier. GREG NICOLSON speaks to the two candidates who have publicly announced their desire to be the DA’s candidate to lead Gauteng and finds them split on identity and experience.

It’s Wednesday morning. Mmusi Maimane stands behind a lectern in an Alexandra lounge. He is wearing trousers and a dashiki. The shirt is black with “Africa” written in cream stitching above an outline of the continent. A carving of a Zulu warrior greets guests at the venue’s entrance. The DA spokesman and deputy national leader starts speaking passionately but comfortably. He diverts from his prepared speech to joke and acknowledge the audience. “With great humility, and a sense of great responsibility, I accept your nomination for Gauteng premier,” he says.

His platform to become the DA’s candidate to lead South Africa’s most populous province reflects the party line, but his message is personal. There are six pledges: oppose e-tolls, promote small business, fight corruption, improve education, implement the youth wage subsidy, and channel broad-based black economic empowerment to help the masses.

Photo: At 34, Maimane is young, charismatic and the DA’s national spokesperson. (Thapelo Lekgowa)

Why? Maimane entered politics because he still has siblings at home in Soweto and wants them to have a better education. He wants opportunities for his two children. “I want them to know Apartheid through literature – and not through their surroundings or the behaviour of others. I want them to be judged by the content of their character, and not the colour of their skin. I want my daughter to walk the streets one day and know that she doesn’t face the threat of rape or violence against her. I want my son to live in a truly liberated South Africa, where he can be confident in the quality of his education, confident that this land offers him opportunities for success.”

It’s Wednesday evening. Jack Bloom walks into a hotel in Johannesburg’s east wearing a blue “Jack Bloom for Premier” t-shirt under a sports jacket. He sits down at a table overlooking Bruma Lake. He’s energised, he says, despite visiting four informal settlements during the day as part of the “Bloom wave” campaign he started to prove he can take the DA towards winning the province in 2014.

His platform to run as the DA’s candidate to lead the country’s economic powerhouse reflects the party line. He wants to scrap e-tolls, cut red tape for small businesses, develop job opportunities, abolish blue light brigades, promote education, improve health services, increase accountability, revise the ministerial handbook, and fight corruption.

Photo: Bloom explodes with an intimate understanding of policy issues and ideas for improvements (Thapelo Lekgowa)

Why? “Don’t forget the forgotten” and “Go and experience for yourself” are his key phrases. Two years ago, there was a shack fire not far from Bloom’s home. “When I arrived there it shook me profoundly. I remember an old man cried on my shoulder. These people had lost everything. There were about 50 shacks that completely burnt down and you can just imagine – they don’t have much to start off with. I went back there on a Sunday evening and [asked] what could I do to assist them and I spent the night there.” Each month since he spends a night in an informal settlement. It’s his “mission”, he says, to help those in need.

The race to become the DA’s candidate for Gauteng premier is not about the message but the messenger. Who best can connect with voters and articulate the party’s policies and values? And who can implement them if they happen to win? The party’s priority in the 2014 elections is to take Gauteng and it has allocated almost 60% of its total campaign budget to the task.

The ANC doesn’t believe it can happen. ANC provincial spokesman Dumisa Ntuli told Daily Maverick they have 50,000 volunteers and the public appreciates the ANC’s efforts to deliver services, create jobs and fight poverty. “The fact that the DA has two premier candidates is a distinctly inauspicious sign that the party is in a state of mess, confusion and leadership squabbles,” he said. “We know that the DA is a white party and always wants to hide under a black skin. They can produce a stack of survey research papers that are misleading and confused, [but] the ultimate test is that voters will vote the party that has the history of delivering to all South Africans. The ANC will win the elections in Gauteng by over 70%.”

It’s an exceptionally tough task, but taking the province would be a major coup for the DA and boost its long-term ambition to govern the country. Looking across the continent, DA members say independence movements generally last for 20 years before change comes, which usually starts in urban areas. The DA cites polls putting the ANC’s current vote at just 51%, and in previous elections the DA has seen gradual gains. In the 2011 local government elections, it took over 33% in the province, and in 2009 almost 22%.

The proliferation of new political forces has also steeled the DA’s resolve. The launch of so many new parties shows that people are willing to challenge their loyalty to the ANC and the belief in its ability to govern. The new parties also offer opportunities for a coalition, crucial in the party’s efforts to govern.

Nominations for who leads the party’s 2014 provincial campaign closed at midnight on Wednesday. Two candidates had publicly announced their ambitions to be premier: Bloom and Maimane.

At 34, Maimane is young. He is charismatic, and as the DA’s national spokesperson, is confident on any issue. He leads the party’s Johannesburg caucus, has two master’s degrees and experience in business. But Bloom has been in public service since 1991, where he started as a councilor at the City of Johannesburg. That’s 20 years before Maimane ran for mayor and took his first political job leading the opposition in the city. In 1994, while Maimane was still in school, both Bloom and Premier Novella Mikoyan were already members of the provincial legislature.

“In the same way people can be experienced in doing the right thing, people can be experienced in doing the wrong thing,” says Maimane. Sitting down after his speech, he explains that government needs to be innovative and fresh. “To be frank, three million new voters will come onto the voters’ roll next year. If we get them registered, the question to answer is what do they think of their current leadership? What do they think of Apartheid? How do they position it for themselves and who is best able to maximise the leadership of that?

“In some ways the key distinguishing factor between my candidacy and Jack Bloom’s is that I believe that I can talk to young people from everywhere, whether they are from Soweto, Alex; it doesn’t matter where they are from.”

Bloom, 52, may lack that charisma, but his work commands respect. He is well known for his relentless visits to inspect service delivery issues, particularly in the townships and informal settlements, and efforts to stamp out corruption in the province. He explodes with an intimate understanding of policy issues and ideas for improvements. One issue rolls into the next as he details a problem, adds a personal anecdote, an attempt to address the issue, and details what he could do if he were premier.

His pitch hinges on experience. He succinctly told Talk Radio 702 his reasons for running: “I’m the most experienced candidate. I’m only DA member who was elected in 1994 in the Gauteng provincial legislature. I’ve actually been in public office for 22 years. I go head-to-head with Premier Nomvula Mokonyane every time there’s a sitting in the Gauteng legislature. I’m leader of the opposition. I know every portfolio very thoroughly in this province and I think it’s time that the DA governs Gauteng and I think I’ve got the skills and experience to do a good job.”

The DA’s choice of candidate could depend on identity issues. “Identity must be broadened beyond the confines of race,” offers Maimane, who once supported and voted for the ANC but thinks politics need to change. “I think coming into next year’s elections it’s about creating a language that connects […] The fact that I grew up being a child of migrant parents – it is a very important component of this election. The fact of the matter is about knowing what it’s like to study without electricity, to pour water out of a bath. These are important issues that people must connect with and identify with,” he says.

Bloom spends a lot of time connecting with voters but it’s hard to ignore the argument that the DA needs a black leader to win a majority-black province. “My view is: just be yourself. People respond to that […] All around this province there are people that I’ve helped,” he says, launching into another rather impressive story of assisting those in need.

Bloom’s work has made him well known and he mentions his features in Daily Sun. “Look at what Deon du Plessis did,” he points to Daily Sun’s founder. “A white Afrikaner male identified a market that nobody else did and I say there’s a similar market for the DA because it’s there and it’s forgotten.” Rather than identity, Bloom wants to focus on service delivery. “My view in this election is we’ve got to fight on the battlefield that counts, the real battlefield. The ANC is going to try these diversionary tactics. The real battlefield is delivery and they’re not delivering.”

Delivery issues are certainly the DA’s election platform. Whether Bloom or Maimane is the right candidate to deliver that message in Gauteng is up to a party committee that will make its decision on 9 August. Maimane seems the likely choice. He is close to party leader Helen Zille and has shot to prominence as one of the party’s new faces. Whoever wins will lead one of the DA’s most important battles to date. DM

Main photo: DA’s Maimane and Bloom. (Thapelo Lekgowa)

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