Mmusi Maimane is set to make his mark in the opposition as someone able to relate to all South Africans, writes Murray Williams.
Cape Town - For many Capetonians – for most South Africans outside Gauteng, in fact – Mmusi Maimane remains barely known.
But that is about to end, with Maimane now poised to step on to the national political stage.
Some may be aware that he is the DA’s national spokesman.
He is also a deputy federal chairman of the DA.
But if the predictions of many inside the DA materialise, Maimane will next Thursday become the parliamentary leader of the official opposition.
And from there, few would doubt that he will be the man one day to replace Helen Zille as party leader – perhaps even as soon as next year, when the DA holds its next congress.
Maimane was always destined to explode on to the national stage as one of two possible heirs-apparent to Zille.
But since DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko’s shock decision to take up a scholarship at Harvard University in the US, Maimane’s destiny now seems certain.
Perhaps the only person who could mount a credible challenge to him in the DA caucus is the federal chairman, Wilmot James, who has declined to stand.
James told the Cape Argus on Monday he didn’t yet know for whom he would vote.
But he said of Maimane back in 2011: “Mmusi Maimane has the heart, the commitment and the ability to identify who should be appointed to what position.
“He’s young, capable, enthusiastic, experienced, highly educated, with a range of abilities, both emotional and intellectual.”
Maimane’s credentials appear to qualify him overwhelmingly.
But party insiders point out that his greatest asset is not the letters behind his name, but the place he comes from, and the language he therefore speaks to ordinary South Africans.
As one DA MP said: “His roots in township life give him an authentic connection with the majority of South African voters. One of our colleagues describes him as a ‘kasi boy’.
“He isn’t pretending to be a kasi boy – he really is a kasi boy.
“I think coming out of the township himself, he maybe identifies with the issues better than someone who didn’t grow up in the township.”
Maimane appears, equally, to be an authentic “born-free” – even if he was 14 when Nelson Mandela took office in the New South Africa.
“Reconciliation is one of my top priorities,” he said.
In 2012, he made headlines when he wrote an open letter to two models – one black, one white – who had exchanged racial insults on social media.
He wrote: “I am in what might have been called under apartheid a ‘mixed marriage’… I would be happy to host you both at my home.
“I am proud to say that it is a place of love and tolerance, a place where people leave their prejudice at the door.”
The two young women accepted the invitation and apologised to each other at a breakfast hosted at Maimane’s home.
In Parliament yesterday, Maimane would not speak of future leadership roles until due process had led the DA through it’s parliamentary elections next Thursday.
Asked if she was ready to become one of the “first ladies” of South African politics, his wife, Natalie, said: “No!
“We’re just going to take it step by step, very slowly.”
Was she afraid of a life of constant scrutiny? “I am nervous.
“Our children are very young – I’d like to protect them for as long as possible.
“I don’t want them to grow up in a fishbowl.”
The couple have decided that the family will remain firmly in Joburg, and that Maimane will commute to and from Cape Town, as required.
There will be no “two-homes” scenario as there is with many MPs. Even so, Maimane said: “I think Natalie will need a thick skin. But we didn’t do this to become famous.
“It’s a by-product of a critically important cause. I have two kids, and this contest is for their future.”
With Natalie at his side, South Africa is about to see a whole lot more of Maimane.
Zille, in 2012, perhaps described Maimane most succinctly when she observed:“In many ways, Mmusi Maimane symbolises our party’s future.”
As simply, as powerfully, as that.
* He was born on June 6, 1980 and raised in Dobsonville, Soweto.
* He holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and Master’s degrees in theology and public administration. He has consulted for businesses on change management, succession and talent retention, and taught at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He is involved in his church as a lay pastor.
* He is a philanthropist and chairs a number of NGO boards focused on HIV/Aids and development.
* He is married to Natalie and they have two children.
* Maimane speaks English, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana and Pedi.
** Murray Williams is a staff writer for the Cape Argus.