South Africa’s biggest opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), gathered in Port Elizabeth today and elected a new party leader: Mmusi Maimane.
Maimane is the first elected black leader of the opposition party and also the youngest (aged 34) to hold the title.
Since DA leader of eight years, Helen Zille, announced that she would not be running for re-election in mid-April, candidates have scrambled to lock in support from their peers.
The DA’s elective conference opened with Maimane as the clear favourite to succeed Zille, but experience and knowledge of politics was on the side of his strongest opponent, Wilmot James.
James only joined the DA leadership in 2008 with no previous connection to the party or its ancestors. However, he was involved in the Black Consciousness Movement and the United Democratic Front before apartheid ended. Since his involvement with the DA James shadowed several ministers, represented the party as a Member of Parliament and until now was its Federal Chairperson.
Maimane has as little as four years of formal political experience. He became noticed after the DA backed him as their mayoral candidate for Johannesburg in the 2011 Municipal elections. Although he didn’t become mayor, the DA appointed him as their lead representative in the Johannesburg City Council. November 2011 Maimane became the DA’s National Spokesperson and with the 2014 elections became the party’s official leader in the National Assembly.
Both candidates have worked their way up the party ladder quite quickly in the short time that they have been active members. Both have impressive educational backgrounds and both have served in important positions.
The two bulls stepped confidently into a televised debate Monday night, which political analysts have called a competition between merit and popularity. The debate demanded the candidates to convey their positions on sensitive topics, such as gay rights, religion and the death penalty.
These analysts believed that James won the debate because his debating skills were more impressive as he produced well formulated answers. Maimane, on the other hand, used his charm and charismatic skills to win the audience over.
After the debate it seemed as if James headed in the bad-mouthing direction by telling The Star newspaper that he was presenting an alternative to the African National Congress (ANC) ruling party and Maimane was presenting a version of the ANC. Following James’ comment, Maimane’s campaign manager, Geordin Hill-Lewis, re-informed the media of James’ past connection with the ANC.
The heated battle came to a halt when DA leaders made their votes early this morning. When the afternoon swung by outgoing leader Zille announced Maimane as the new leader.
No matter the banter that lead-up to the election, the party has spoken. Maimane is an intelligent man and popular with the people. Although apartheid ended more than 20 years ago, the majority of South Africans are continuously afraid that a white leader would bring back the oppressive system. If the leading opposition party is to stand a chance at taking national office, it had to get a black leader- no offense to Zille’s skills. Now that the DA has Maimane as its leader, the Municipal elections next year will prove intensely interesting. Will Maimane handle it?
Published: The News Hub on 10 May 2015