It has not yet been a year since Mmusi Maimane took up leadership of the Democratic Alliance (DA) from Helen Zille. Maimane has had a hell run with a storm over racism lashing his party while waging war with the ANC, primarily over the leadership of President Jacob Zuma. The Gupta controversy and Constitutional Court judgment on the Nkandla matter has created a crisis in the ANC. Opposition parties are being put to the test on whether they can outmanoeuvre the ANC and also draw support away from the ruling party. But Maimane says he has bigger ambitions than only dislodging Zuma. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
On Wednesday, Mmusi Maimane will lead opposition party leaders in a meeting with National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete. They will be discussing Parliament’s response to the Constitutional Court judgment that found President Jacob Zuma had breached the Constitution and that the National Assembly had flouted its constitutional obligations and acted unlawfully.It is bound to be another session of butting of heads.
Last week, Maimane led opposition parties in a bid to impeach Zuma over the judgment but this failed, predictably, due to the requirement that the motion be adopted through a two-thirds majority vote in the House. The DA and other parties had tried to appeal to ANC Members of Parliament (MPs) to act according to conscience and vote against Zuma. None of the ANC MPs responded positively, leading to a campaign by the DA to name and shame them, singling out leaders who are still seen to be upstanding such as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
If the mission was to isolate and remove Zuma, it would seem that this strategy by the DA only caused the ANC to close ranks to protect the president. Besides, with the turbulence within the ANC at present, it would make sense to aid the process of the ruling party turning on itself rather than forcing it to act in unison against an opposition attack. No ANC MPs have ever sided with the opposition against their own party. And even though Zuma is a divisive force in the ruling party, it would be unthinkable for ANC members to participate in a process from outside party structures to unseat their leader.
The DA also faced criticism for rushing the impeachment motion without considering other strategies to manoeuvre around the ANC’s numerical advantage in a parliamentary vote.
It is these questions that Daily Maverick put to Maimane in an interview in Johannesburg on Monday. On Tuesday, Maimane and other opposition leaders were strategising over the next steps to force Parliament to contend with damning Constitutional Court judgment. Maimane insists that it was necessary to pursue the impeachment motion, even though it was bound to fail.
“I cannot manipulate ANC processes,” he says, explaining that the DA could not plan its actions around rumours that the ANC might have called a national executive committee meeting to recall the president. “If I have to work according to the ANC timetable I would never do anything,” Maimane said.
The ANC’s victory in defeating the impeachment vote was pyrrhic, he says. Voting in favour of Jacob Zuma was a vote against the Constitution and it was important for the DA to let South Africans witness ANC MPs making that choice. “It is now a matter of public record that Cyril Ramaphosa, Baleka Mbete and all those who voted against the motion are Zuma supporters.”
Yes, the goal is to rid the country of the menace that is Jacob Zuma, but removing the president would not miraculously solve the problem, says Maimane. “Zuma is not an anomaly of the ANC. It was important for us to put those two things together, that Zuma is one symbol of what has gone wrong in the ANC.
“There is a perception that if you remove Zuma, everything will be fine. That is not true,” said Maimane. He said the DA was working to counter the narrative that the ANC was redeemable and could self correct.
Whether it is Zuma and the Nkandla matter or the “state capture” by the Guptas, the solution would not come from within the ANC. Opposition parties in Parliament have put previous hostilities behind them and are co-operating to deal with the repercussions of the Constitutional Court judgment. Maimane says he is not yet sure whether this co-operation might extend to other areas, such as election pacts to break the ANC’s dominance.
Of course, all parties also have their own strategies – some more aggressive than others.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema has declared that his party no longer recognises Zuma as president and would “physically remove him” if the president tried to address Parliament again.
The Congress of the People (Cope) announced that it was withdrawing its participation in Parliament. It said “the refusal of the ruling party in Parliament to act against the incumbent in the office of the president made it guilty of contempt of court”. Cope said it would be approaching the Constitutional Court to request clarity on the way forward.
Leader of the United Democratic Movement Bantu Holomisa has written to Mbete asking Parliament to institute a disciplinary enquiry against Zuma to investigate, among other things, whether the president had misled Parliament about the security upgrades at his Nkandla home.
Maimane said there had been agreement amongst the opposition leaders that they would all write their own letters to the Speaker on action they propose should be taken. He said the question of possible perjury by the president needed to be pursued. Although the DA and other opposition parties have been more successful in the courts than they have been in Parliament, Maimane said they had to exhaust all processes in Parliament before they could challenge decisions in court.
He said the DA would support and participate in planned protests and campaigns against Zuma by civil society organisations, but would continue to try all possible means to hold the president accountable in Parliament.
So what for the DA would be the final mark of success on the Nkandla matter? Maimane said the Constitutional Court stated that Zuma should pay “personally” a portion of the nonsecurity upgrades at Nkandla, as outlined in Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report. The DA wanted to make sure this was done and that neither the state nor anybody else’s money was used to settle the debt.
Maimane said Zuma should also face the consequences for having acted in violation of the Constitution. “Paying back the money cannot be the only thing. The president needs to be held accountable.”
Maimane has requested legal opinion on whether the president could be absolved of responsibility for his actions on the basis of majoritarianism.
But ultimately, the DA wants to hit the ANC where it hurts most: at the polls. Fresh from wall-to-wall campaigning during the final registration weekend for the local government elections, Maimane says he is detecting that sentiment and loyalty is swinging away from the ANC.
“South Africans are angry. We really do see the swing in our numbers, in the growth of members, in the registration process and when we engage voters. I am also inundated with requests from people who want to get involved in our campaigns,” Maimane said.
Through its election campaign based on the theme of “Change”, the DA wants to demonstrate how it can govern ANC-led municipalities better, and show off successes in areas where they are in charge. But the crisis in the ANC leadership is something all opposition parties hope to maximise on.
The ANC will launch its election manifesto in Nelson Mandela Bay this weekend, one of the most hotly contested municipalities and the metro where it is most in danger of losing its majority. The party will attempt to present a united face but continues to face internal turbulence, with some structures refusing to toe the line of the national leadership to accept Zuma’s “apology” and take no further action.
The statement by the provincial executive committee of Gauteng calling on Zuma to “reflect deeply and do the right thing to resolve the unprecedented crisis” in the ANC will further unsettle the party ahead of the official launch of its election campaign this weekend.
The test for opposition parties is whether these divisions and disillusionment in the ANC would reap benefits for them at the polls. Maimane says this is why it is important for his party to keep its message on track that the rot has infested the ANC and is not confined to Zuma.
While the DA must service its constituency, it is also reaching out to people who have not voted previously and those who have become disillusioned. The next few months will be a hard fight to sway voting patterns and ensure that the high level of public attention on politics translates into crosses on ballot papers.
Maimane’s tenure as Leader of the Opposition began with a baptism of fire with the DA’s own internal turbulence over racism and the lack of transformation. Now he has to prove his mettle by leading his first major election campaign as DA leader and simultaneously leading the charge against a seemingly invincible president.
“As leader, you set the pace,” says Maimane. “The speed of the leader is the speed of the team.”
The 35-year-old Maimane might have speed. What he really needs now is votes. DM
Photo: Leader of the opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) Mmusi Maimane speaks during a debate over the removal of the president in Parliament, Cape Town, 5 April 2016. EPA/NIC BOTHMA
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer