Opinionista Ian Von Memerty 23 February 2018

Maimane’s growing mastery

On Thursday last week, as Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in, and Patricia de Lille narrowly survived a motion of no confidence in Cape Town, Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader Mmusi Maimane proved how much he has learnt and grown since 2015.

Two years ago I wrote an op-ed about Maimane’s inability to transcend his hyperbolic “preacher” instincts, which meant that he was unable to find a voice of authentic authority in Parliament and in interviews. On Thursday last week he proved that he has a growing certainty and confidence that gave him three clear wins in one day.

First, the hug, the human win: When Maimane crossed the floor to embrace Ramamphosa on being sworn in as State President, it was a spontaneous moment of one South African congratulating another. “Actions speak louder than words.” That is a truism because it is true.

Maimane’s willingness to embrace a political opponent was a snapshot of democracy. An opponent is seen as worthwhile and worthy of respect despite political differences. In doing that Maimane “broke the mould” of being in opposition at all costs. This was one South African leader acknowledging another – and it spoke volumes. And whether it was his intention or not he also set himself up as Ramaphosa’s equal – not his junior.

Second, the ANC problem, the political win: In the same arena, in the same hour Maimane had to respond to a seismic shift in national politics, and one that would have huge ramifications for his party. He and his parliamentary caucus had been banging on for nine years, “remove Jacob Zuma” – and now they had got their wish. So what next? In a relaxed and confident speech Maimane articulated his party’s strategy. In less than a minute of easy erudition, every word underscored by understated but impactful body language, he lead up to a solid sound bite that captured national attention: “We don’t have a Jacob Zuma problem, we have an ANC problem.”

He clearly and simply stated that everything that Jacob Zuma had been accused of, had been supported by a compliant ANC caucus who had done everything to defend and distract from a fatally flawed leader. With that he seamlessly positioned himself and his party as continuing their battle against corruption and non-delivery with no accountability. Maimane made it clear Zuma was just the prow of a pirate vessel of ANC brigands, and that former first mate Ramaphosa was sailing the ship of state with the same dodgy crew.

Third, the news conference, the leadership win: On the same day that the ANC crowned a new leader in Parliament the DA found itself in the middle of a twisted mess. It had not been able to rid itself of an unwanted leader in Cape Town when Mayor Patricia de Lille survived a motion of no confidence by one vote. She did this only by getting the support of opposition parties who had one week previously moved their own motion of no confidence in the mayor. It was political kick-boxing at its best and Maimane had the unenviable task of answering to the media – who were quite naturally delighted with this political mud wrestling.

Maimane handled that press conference with an adroit ease. He spoke of the charges against “Patricia”. Using her name and not her title, he made himself human by humanising her. He then clearly and concisely articulated that without a majority of DA caucus support, De Lille, had merely dodged the bullet on that day – but that the likelihood of her surviving the battle was remote. She is still under investigation, and she is still being charged by the DA – who are by nature conservative in attacking their own. They must be pretty confident of the facts to continue down this road.

He was polite to the press, he was not rushed, he was not over blown with self-righteousness ; he was “a leader” handling a crisis with clarity and control.

As the eyes of the country were on Ramaphosa’s Resurrection of the ANC, and while Julius Malema was making much ado about nothing, Maimane was showing that his party had not been merely politically expedient when they elected him as their leader in 2015.

It was also good to see him at his best having watched him at The Gathering last year where his speech was a lesson in how NOT to make a speech. He was unconvinced and unconvincing. Whether he can now convince the country that he is ready for the “big job” will be his real test, but for now take a bow Mmusi Maimane. Thursday was a good day for you. DM

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