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Thu Apr 24 13:00:50 SAST 2014

Poster boy for the DA's charm offensive

Andrea Nagel | 12 May, 2011 23:040 Comments
NEW BROOM: Mmusi Maimane, the DA mayoral candidate for Johannesburg, wants service delivery and access to councillors Picture: ALON SKUY
Image by: ALON SKUY

The Big Read: "The DA wasn't an obvious choice for me," said Mmusi Maimane, the party's mayoral candidate for Johannesburg. "Getting into politics, I researched the ANC, COPE . everyone, because I realised that my political affiliation was going to be very important."

Now that he's made the choice he's being criticised for being a "token black" in the DA.

"It was Mandela who said that we need to be liberated from the racism and sexism of our past. I believe that the future of this country depends on democracy and that's what spoke to me about the DA," he said.

"I feel that, if I joined the ANC, I would be working towards liberating black people only, whereas with the DA I am potentially liberating everyone and building a nonracist, nonsexist society.

"If we're going to be a healthy democracy we have to rescue South Africa from being a one-party state," he said, acknowledging South Africa's difficult past.

"My parents suffered under apartheid but they never taught me racism. It breaks me that some politicians want to fight the elections on race.

"I'm amazed when people refer to me as the DA's black candidate. But, having said that, I love that I'm black. It comes from a heritage that I'm proud of."

The suave 30-year-old with a master's degree in theology exudes easy confidence. His assertion that he can make a real difference to society is convincing. With his private school accent and Soweto birthright, he straddles the divides and ticks the right boxes.

He is stylish, erudite, personable and impressive, and, as far as I can tell, he's squeaky clean.

Dressed in a tailored grey suit, casually unbuttoned, and sipping apricot juice at Café Post, in Braamfontein, opposite the DA offices, Maimane appears unfazed by the frenzy of the election campaign.

"I've been involved in NGOs for years," he said with a charming smile that's guaranteed to become the hallmark of his political career.

"I went to a Catholic school where I was inspired by a nun, Sister Christine, who taught me to be critical. She has been one of the most influential people in my life."

Family is very important to Maimane. His father works for a lock-making company and his mother works in pharmaceuticals, "though not the Nigerian kind," he jokes - and there's that poster-perfect smile again.

Once quoted as saying that he did not want to end up in a country led by Julius Malema, Maimane won't let me draw him into a comparison between him and the ANC Youth League president. He deftly dodges my attempts to bait him.

He is idealistic about the direction he thinks the Johannesburg municipality should take.

"Hypocrisy is no good. We must be accountable to the people as politicians," he said.

"There's an urgent need to return to the place where public service is just that: service to the people. It's about giving people access to the mayor, to tender meetings, to policy reviews, so that the people know what's happening. It's time to debunk the idea of politicians building themselves towers that no one can access."

Maimane plays down the fact that he is currently completing his second master's degree, in public administration. It's would be an obvious asset to him in working for the city though.

"Cities work in direct proportion to the competence of their administrators," he said. "I come from a party that has a history of policies that are working."

Frequently questioned for his youthfulness and lack of political experience Maimane said: "My nomination for mayor of Johannesburg is consistent with global trends. We want to bring competence to the office, despite age, in a developing economy where half of the population is under 30.

"The issues that we have today in this country are unique and so we need to be innovative in our solutions. This is where youthfulness helps. I'm very proud of my age. With youth comes flexibility and the determination to try new things until we get it right."

With the elections just a few days away, it's difficult to turn the discussion away from politics but his face lights up when he talks about his nine-month-old daughter, whom he described as "fantastic".

"She reminds me of my dedication to the idea that everyone has the right to be looked after by the government. In particular, it's the poor, who have no alternatives, who need us most."

I leave the Braamfontein coffee shop with the feeling that I'm going to be seeing plenty more of this handsome, idealistic and charming young politician.

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Poster boy for the DA's charm offensive

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