Cape Town - The DA’s expected new leader in Parliament has damned claims that his nomination is solely because of his his skin colour - charging that such thinking is “fundamentally racist”.
The 103-strong DA parliamentary caucus will vote for its new leaders next Thursday and Mmusi Maimane is widely viewed as heir-apparent to US-bound Lindiwe Mazibuko as the DA’s new parliamentary leader.
In an exclusive interview with the Cape Argus on Tuesday, Maimane said that he had been nominated because of his “competence and belief in my leadership attributes”.
Responding to suggestions that black DA members were “token blacks” who could be manipulated, he said: “That is an insult to black South Africans.”
“Black South Africans are not automatons, without any ability to think for themselves. Black South Africans, like every other South African, have the right to choose for themselves.”
Maimane said any suggestion that Mazibuko had been “forced out” was “ill-conceived”, because she had had the right to choose for herself. Similarly, his decision whether to stand for parliamentary leader was his alone.
“Just because someone is black does not mean they can be remote-controlled, like cattle can be herded,” he said.
Maimane noted that of those who thought black DA members could be controlled “as if on puppet-strings” most were themselves black. These people remained “ideologically brainwashed by apartheid”, he said.
“That’s precisely Verwoerd’s legacy. And it’s so ironic. People who think that I, as a black South African, could ever be remote-controlled - they are themselves still oppressed by their mindset that black people are inferior. They remain trapped in precisely the thinking that Steve Biko was trying to free them from,” said Maimane.
“And it’s not unique to politics. Black businessmen are seen to be either corrupt, corrupted or token.”
He believed this thinking was profoundly “racist”. By contrast, Maimane said of himself: “I have my own identity, my own cause, my own goals. It is those which will inform my decisions.
“Look, I’m not a denialist of the fact that race is a big factor in South African politics. But I’ve been nominated despite any relevance of my race. The DA believes I can lead.”
At an operational level during the past election, he pointed out: “Helen Zille was hardly involved in Gauteng, where the DA grew the most.”
Did he share DA federal chairman Wilmot James’s view that Zille’s leadership of the party, while premier of the Western Cape, represented “two centres of power”?
“We’re still one party, and internal debate is healthy,” said Maimane.
Should he be elected DA parliamentary leader, his top priority would be job creation.
“We need to expand the job market and equip young people to compete in it. This requires good policy in government, but it also requires a strong opposition that can hold the government to account,” he said.
“As an MP, I will pressure Jacob Zuma and his cabinet to deal with the jobs crisis head-on. I believe in constructive opposition that serves all the people of South Africa.
“The DA grows with every election. There is every possibility that we can win a national election in the next decade,” said Maimane. “It is going to be a rocky road because the ANC won’t give up power easily. Our job is to stop power abuse and put an alternative on the table that resonates with people.”
Did he believe his fellow countrymen would forever vote along racial lines?
“In the 2014 election, we saw the DA grow by 1.1 million votes, with 760 000 of these votes coming from black South Africans. In fact, one in five of the DA’s voters are now black… It destroys the argument that we have reached some kind of racial ceiling.”
Of Zuma’s presidency, he said: “I think that Jacob Zuma has reversed some of the gains made by his predecessors, particularly when it comes to the economy and jobs.”
Nominations for the top positions in Parliament close on Monday next week - with the vote three days later.