A Second Interview with Mmusi Maimane MP

Mmusi Maimane

28th January 2017

Mmusi Maimane has been the Leader of the Democratic Alliance, the Opposition Party in South Africa, since May 2015. Before this, he was the leader of his party in the Johannesburg City Council, and in 2014, he ran for Premier in the province of Gauteng. I first interviewed Mr Maimane in 2015, shortly after he became leader. In the interview, which you can find here, I asked him about his vision for South Africa, racial politics, and the ANC’s abuse of office.

Q: Last year, you had a very successful regional election and you won several cities. You also entered into several coalitions with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). How are the coalitions going so far?
A: I think that they’re going well. I’ll start with all the respective cities. Nelson Mandela, that coalition is working fairly well. We’ve started to deliver more effective governance. Johannesburg is doing better than I thought it would, because there, we’re not the largest party, we’re the second largest. But our coalition partners now realise how serious the project of governance is, so I think that’s a unifying factor.
They are also uncovering more ANC corruption, so the fact that we oppose the ANC kind of keeps the glue together. Tshwane (Pretoria) is doing brilliantly. They have had a brilliant start to the year. Now, we get into budget season, where we will try to pass some budgets, but overall , the coalitions are working well.

Q: Looking towards the 2019 General Election, if there was a hung parliament, would you consider forming a government by entering a coalition, either with the EFF, or with a faction of the ANC if it splits?
A: National government, in contrast to local government, is where policy matters a lot less. Local government is really about delivery and execution. I’m not suggesting that national government is not about that, but ideology in that space is a huge variable. So I think that in national government, we would be more open to saying ‘Let’s agree on some key program of delivery’, and I think we’re much closer to that because we and the ANC agree on the National Development Plan.
Also, we agree on a market based economy, we agree that people need to start microenterprise, and my program would always be ‘how do we ensure that these things happen?’ It would be a bit trickier to try and deal with the EFF within that space, but we can’t ignore the conversation around corruption. I would never compromise by going into government, even with the ANC, if there was clear evidence that that particular faction of the ANC was corrupt. We can’t do that, it undermines government. I think 2019 has one or two options: a grand coalition of opposition parties, or a coalition between a faction of the ANC with the DA, around values that we will deliver.

Q: How do you think another leader of the ANC in 2019 will change your election strategy?
A: What’s become clear is that the ANC has suffered from the cancer of corruption, so it becomes immaterial who the leader is. The only two leading candidates as of today are Mrs Zuma, who is the former chair of the African Union, and Cyril Ramaphosa. Neither of those candidates is dissociable from the ANC; they are all one. Voters in the 2019 election need to make a fundamental choice about who is going to make a better South Africa. The ANC and its leader will campaign on its historical achievements and race mobilisation. The focus of my campaign – and this is the focus of work even now – will be the future of South Africa: what we envisage for our young people, for the development of Africa, for a prosperous economy for all, and for a non-racial tomorrow. So I think that’s going to be the distinguisher going into 2019.

Q: Do you think that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan should lose his position, and do you think that he actually will?
A: I don’t think Zuma will do it in the first six months of the year, mainly because I think Zuma is working back at the branches of the party and getting support from there. Heading toward the ANC’s conference, it might be a credible opportunity for Zuma to say ‘Our policy pronouncements look like this. The Finance Minister is practicing a different policy outlook’. And then, he will make that a reason to legitimise his decision.
I think that the second half of the year is going to become rough and there may be many more casualties along the way. The Finance Minister has now got to table the budget, and then will move on from there. But the battle really, broadly speaking, has got little to do with the economy of South Africa, and everything to do with a corrupt President whose agenda has always been about himself; a President who is trying to gain access to the Treasury; and an organisation that has no credibility on the issue of the economy, and no interest in the economic outcome for South Africa.
What we’ve got to do as a party is to say ‘How do we set up a macroeconomic policy that not only creates stability, but can direct economic activity in certain areas that would benefit South Africans?’

Q: There’s a focus on corruption at the 2019 election, but you also have to talk about your policies, so how are you going to balance the two? How are you going to make your policies understandable even for the undereducated?
A: I think that broadly speaking, for the first time, the DA is thinking hard about how we transition from just being a party in opposition to being a party of government, and therefore, putting forward policies that are going to address the needs of the people.
The first key anchor point is how we govern our metros. We now have access to 16 million people, and we control the majority of the local government budget, which has a material effect on people’s livelihoods. If we govern well in those places, then in some ways, the conversation about policy becomes secondary, because when people can taste good governance they are inclined to give credence to that national government.
Secondly, we’ve got to be less about the nuances of policy; we’ve got to be a lot more specific about what we offer South Africans. So there will be a lot of quantifiable, measurable, policy stances that we’re going to articulate for 2019.
The last component is about how we demonstrate that we’re not corrupt. We need to put up leaders across all provinces, and show that they have no track record of corruption. These are the people who can take South Africa forwards. So it’s a bit like modelling non-racialism, you can talk about it all you like, but it comes down to whether you can demonstrate it and whether people can see it.
My project between now and 2019 is to establish that vision, and I’ve already got a draft document called My Vision for South Africa. It focuses on two main issues: jobs and justice, but it’s also about recruiting the best talent in South Africa to be serve in the government.

Q: Which books would you recommend to someone my age?
A: There is a book written by a minister who does leadership work in the US called Courageous Leadership, which I read as a teenager. It poses the question: ‘Are you willing to confront injustice in society, without position?’ It’s about understanding your own locus of control; whether you fundamentally believe you can make a contribution to society. If I speak to my own kids, who are still little, I try to say to them ‘Your fundamental existence has everything to do with whether you can impact another individual’s life in society’. So that was a really great book to read, and certainly made me question my role in the world, and how I could contribute to it.

Q: What life lessons have you learnt over the course of your distinguished career?
A: Sometimes, your gut matters more, because all you have to defend in life are your convictions. The best way I can describe it, is that there are some decisions that aren’t about right or wrong, that aren’t about policy choices, but are about a deep gut reaction. Even as a young leader, there were times when my gut was telling me one thing, but the politics was telling me something different. You have a natural inclination to say ‘Let’s take the political decision’, and being politically correct in the moment can sometimes undermine you being historically correct. You’ve got to decide whether or not to go with your gut. This is something I would like to practice more.
Also, someone once said to me ‘You’re going to have a choice in life between whether you want to make a difference or a noise’. Sometimes, you have to make a noise to make a difference, but you should always choose to make a difference.

Q: What did you learn in your teenage years which you think has influenced your success?
A: As a teenager, I grew up in a fairly poor community, and my exposure to a different world gave me a vision that things didn’t have to stay that way. And even as a teenager, I learnt that however impossible it seemed, I shouldn’t accept the conditions as they are, but should keep hoping and working for something different.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done which you didn’t do when you were my age?
A: I did woodwork at school. Today, I’m not the handyman type of guy. The girls did typing, and the boys did woodwork. If I wish I’d done anything, it would be typing, because I certainly do more typing today than I do woodwork, and the only woodwork I do is building a braai (barbecue), which isn’t even great.

Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met since I last interviewed you, and why?
A: The US ambassador to South Africa, a man called Patrick Gaspard, I thought was a fascinating individual because he has worked in the Obama campaign, and then in South Africa, so he understands the complexities from a different point of view. Another person I found interesting was Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of Nigeria, because as a former President, he has a different stance and different views about the region. That’s knowledge that you wouldn’t have otherwise, and I found him and Thabo Mbeki interesting to listen to. I don’t always agree with what they have to say, but they lived through very fascinating periods.

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