By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Figurehead with little influence
In response to a question about one of his points about Maimane not being an effective leader thus far, Wits’ Southall has this to say. “There was always a suggestion that [Maimane] was backed as a relatively inoffensive black successor by Zille, and he has to try to span the awkward divisions across race within the DA, wherein there is quite a powerful old white guard. So the battles within the DA tend to reflect that.”
New African also sought to know why Wits’ Southall thought Maimane had thus far failed to capture the public imagination.
“Maimane is a preacher, so has some reasonable ability to capture the public imagination in public speaking, but is not particularly ‘charismatic’, and in fact is less publicly appealing in many ways than Zille in her prime, who speaks fluent Xhosa, was a very good campaigner in the townships, and could dance with the best of them.”
“Maimane is a bit stilted. To be fair, its a difficult role he has to fill. And as an opposition leader, he has to compete with [Julius] Malema, who is bombastic, full of fiery speeches, and makes a public spectacle, and is always in the news. In fact, he creates news, Maimane doesn’t.”
A recent incident vindicates some of the points raised by Wits’ Southall. No, the pertinent example is not the “forty-four out of ten South Africans don’t have a job” slip of the tongue Maimane suffered on the campaign trail in March.
It is rather the faux pas Maimane committed during Ramaphosa’s question and answer session in parliament in early March, when he attempted to ask a question in the local language. He made a mistake in the use of the right protocols in his reference to Goodwill Zwelithini, the Zulu king.
His error forced Mandla Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, who is a member of parliament (MP), to point out the difference between a ‘King Zwelithini’ and a tribal chief like himself.
“The honourable member just misled the house”, echoed Mandela, “there is a difference between a king and a traditional leader being a chief…King Zwelithini is addressed as such ‘His Majesty’”. Thereafter, national assembly speaker Baleka Mbete ruled that Maimane “be sensitive to the protocols”; amidst laughter by some of the black MPs. Maimane asked the remainder of his question in English afterwards.
The slight error on the right protocol was not the substance of Maimane’s question; which was on land expropriation. But to be corrected on such small but very important local nuances is probably evidence of why Maimane still does not appeal very much to the hearts of many black South Africans. He should not have to be corrected on these things.
Maybe a slight bump
So what are the DA’s chances in the upcoming elections in May? New African asked Langelihle Malimela, Johannesburg-based Senior Africa Analyst at IHS Markit.
“The DA is unlikely to progress much further than the 22 percent that it managed in the 2014 poll. I would hesitate to put a number to this, but I think that they will climb by perhaps three to five percent.”
“This is largely because the DA has done the majority of its growth over the years by eating into the share of other smaller parties, rather than eating into the ANC. In this regard, they have probably approached a ceiling and are unlikely to grow a lot more, at least for the time-being.”
“They have encroached a little in recent times on ANC votes, but not substantially. This is because the data shows that as ANC voters have begun to punish the ANC for corruption etc. in recent times, the majority of them have done so by not voting at all, rather than voting for another party, including the DA.”
“This tells you that the opposition in South Africa still struggles to take advantage of the ANC’s blunders.”
“In terms of manifestos, really the ANC and DA cancel each other out. Both place great emphasis on growing the economy, cleaning out corruption and improving education.”
“Where the DA has tended to fall short is in the realm of Black Economic Empowerment (or BEE). This is a policy regime that aims to transform South Africa’s economy by giving preferential access to economic opportunities to people of colour in South Africa.”
“Given that the DA is an historically white party, it has always been equivocal in how it approaches this matter and voters have tended to pick up on this.”
“The latest manifesto flatly rejects BEE in the manner that it has been implemented by the ANC, which has resulted in the enrichment of a quite small, politically connected elite, increased corruption and largely failed to change the demographic make-up of the South African economy.”
“But in its place, the DA has not been able to suggest a coherent alternative that prioritises redress, and speaks to the aspiration of a rapidly urbanising black middle class.”
An edited version was published in the April 2019 issue of New Africa magazine