Bloomberg – Mmusi Maimane overcame three rivals to become the first black leader of South Africa’s main opposition party at the age of 34. His next aims are to wrest support from the ruling African National Congress in municipal elections and hold President Jacob Zuma to account for a corruption scandal.
Maimane was named successor to Helen Zille, who’s retiring as Democratic Alliance leader after eight years, at a party congress in the southern town of Port Elizabeth on Sunday. The DA is looking to Maimane to attract more votes from black citizens, who make up 80 percent of the population yet accounted for 15 percent of its support in last year’s national elections.
“Maimane’s election is symbolically important,” Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy, said by phone. “It does make the DA’s leadership more representative and will enable it to take the ANC head-on. At the same time there is no guarantee that having a black leader will translate into more black support.”
The ANC, which is still widely credited with ending apartheid rule, has won more than 60 percent of the vote in every election since it took power under Nelson Mandela in 1994. While the government has boosted access to welfare grants and AIDS drugs, 24 percent of the workforce remains jobless, 22 percent of the population of 54 million doesn’t get enough to eat and white households on average earn six times more than their black counterparts.
The DA, which was founded in 2001 and won 22 percent of the vote last year, will aim to retain control of Cape Town and oust the ANC in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth and other towns in next year’s local government poll, Maimane said.
“Our goal is to win support from voters of all races,” he said in his victory speech. “We will stand firm on our commitment to implement policies that redress the legacy of the past. We will push for measures to grow our economy and create jobs. We will position the DA as the party of tomorrow. We will connect with voters on the basis of shared values.”
Maimane also pledged to pursue a lawsuit aimed at ensuring Zuma is prosecuted for taking bribes from arms dealers. Charges against Zuma were dropped just weeks before he took office in 2009. The president has denied any wrongdoing.
“President Zuma, if you are watching, please note we are still coming for you,” Maimane said to loud applause from delegates. “Nobody is above the law. And equally so, no political party has the divine right to rule this country.”
Maimane is a former lecturer who holds a masters degree in public administration. He joined the DA in 2009 and served as the party’s caucus leader in the city of Johannesburg before being appointed its parliamentary leader last year – a post he intends retaining. Zille remains premier of the Western Cape, the only one of the nine provinces not controlled by the ANC.
“Mmusi gives us hope,” said Olwethu Ntame, a councilor from the southern city of East London, who wore a blue t-shirt bearing Maimane’s image and campaign slogan “Believe in tomorrow.”
“He can stand in front of any crowd and connect. We want leaders who have ideas. Race is not important. The DA has transformed a long time ago.”
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