06/06/2018 04:00 BST | Updated 06/06/2018 09:01 BST

The HuffPost Big Interview: Mmusi Maimane On Race, Land And 2019

The DA has come in for sharp criticism of late, but the party's leader believes voters will not abandon it and that it remains on the right track.

Graphics24/Theuns Kruger

He is deeply concerned about the state of race relations in South Africa, DA leader Mmusi Maimane says, and believes South African should beware of "giving up" on the project of a nonracial country.

Maimane, during a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday in the DA's new national headquarters in Bruma, Johannesburg, more than once repeated his concern about how South Africans from different races relate to each other and explained why he pushed so hard for the country's largest opposition party to adopt a "diversity clause" in its Constitution.

In the interview with HuffPost Maimane explained:

  • The DA is united and that internal debates does not translate into divisions;
  • He wants to future-proof the DA against nationalism of any kind;
  • Title deeds are the answer to land reform uncertainty;
  • Why the economy needs a serious revamp; and
  • Why voters won't ditch the party because of current controversies.

The DA has recently been strongly criticised about the way it has handled the Patricia de Lille affair, how it's reacted to the fledgeling presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa and how it communicates its policies and attempts to set itself apart from the governing ANC. A recent poll by Ipsos has also shown that the party's support had declined by two percentage points, a year out from the election.

Maimane says he has taken aboard much of what critics have recently said about the party, including criticism of policy positions, but remains steadfast that the DA is on the right track.

If he is concerned about recent reports about alleged divisions in the party based on a "progressive black caucus" and a "conservative white caucus", he didn't show it, but said the troubled state of broad race relations has also manifested in criticism of the DA.

Maimane told HuffPost that much of the "generally poor analysis" of the DA is based on racial stereotyping. "Our federal congress came out united, but people didn't believe it. There's an almost inherent disbelief that black and white people can work together and an instinct that when there is a disagreement between a black and white South African, that suddenly there's division."

GULSHAN KHAN via Getty Images
DA leader Mmusi Maimane, addresses the audience during the party's federal congress in Pretoria on April 7, 2018.


Maimane said too many people still conform to the idea that black and white are supposed to subscribe to certain ideologies or views purely because of the colour of their skin and that, for example in the DA, black must be "truly liberal" and white something else. "We hear the debate about what is liberalism and classical liberalism...but we don't hear people debating what classical socialism is!"

He believes the ANC government's failure to grow the economy and ensure quality education has contributed to poor race relations. "It's therefore natural for a liberation party, after they have failed, to hype up race. So, because they have failed the economic test, because they've failed the governance test they have to hype up race. It [race] becomes a place where you can hide failures of service delivery and failure of governance."

It is tempting for political parties in South Africa, given our history, to anchor themselves to race and say this is who they champion. It's the easiest way to mobilise people.Mmusi Maimane

If this is not managed with caution and responsibly, Maimane believes South Africa could be faced with the prospect of a "race war" with certain groups blamed for the failures of government.

He acknowledges that the broader struggles in society also finds resonance in internal DA dynamics and having to manage the expectations of a traditional (white) DA voting corps and a prospective and bigger (black) voting bloc. But, Maimane contends, the hopes of one part of the electorate don't have to equate to the fears of another.

The insertion of the so-called "diversity clause" led to much debate about how it was phrased, what the motives were and whether or not it was "watered down". Maimane, however, says the party is united in what the clause seeks to achieve, and that is ensuring that that DA stays true to its character of nonracialism.

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Cyril Ramaphosa is congratulated by DA leader Mmusi Maimane after being sworn in as the new president of the Republic of South Africa in Parliament on February 15, 2018 in Cape Town.

He explained that the sole purpose of the clause is to future-proof the party and that in this day and age of "racial populism" and in a country which has seen the rise of British, Afrikaner and now African nationalism, he wants to prevent the DA form one day falling into the same trap. Maimane says the clause was crafted to establish beyond doubt that the party acknowledges the injustices of the past and actively seeks to ensure diversity within its ranks.

"It is tempting for political parties in South Africa, given our history, to anchor themselves to race and say this is who they champion. It's the easiest way to mobilise people. If we don't guard against that my kids, will in a matter of time, have to account for their race," he said. "Race is this country's eternal struggle, and people give up on it from time to time."


There were three moments in the last decade where Maimane thought that race relations were unravelling. The first was in 2014 when Ramaphosa warned that "the Boers" will return if the DA wins the election, two years later when former president Jacob Zuma insulted black DA leaders and supporters and during the Coligny violence in 2017, when white and black threatened each other.

Graphics24/Theuns Kruger

He believes there are strong racial undertones to the ANC's sudden focus on land reform and he does not believe the party is honest in its dealings: "Land is an important justice issue. But why now? Why now, on the eve of an election where there are fears that the ANC could drop below 50%? Are the ANC's motives honest or is it about masking something else? Why are we whipping up the entire country about changing the Constitution? The government spends more money on VIP protection than it does on land reform... that tells you how important it is to them."

They can invest in it or they can sell it if they want. People in the old Bantustans must get title to that land. Then they can do with it whatever they want.Maimane

Parliament could amend the Constitution tomorrow, but the same people who were unemployed and poor before will be unemployed and poor afterwards. Maimane says the ANC's economic policies have failed South Africans and it is using land tactically to hide those failures, attempting to distract the electorate. "The ANC has stolen money...people say it was [only] Zuma, but he had to have been extraordinarily talented to steal so much without the support of his political party. And frankly, the only reason they removed Zuma was because of the election."


Land has been a marked failure of the ANC's government over the last decade, with an inadequate budget being squandered and no real commitment to engage roleplayers in the sector. Maimane says his party has real solutions, which includes extending title to those who want it, but also creating security of tenure for others.

"Nobody disagrees that land reform should accelerate. In regards to agricultural land there is an opportunity to create equity and to make those workers that live on the farm partners in the venture. We've seen that in Wellington where farmers have partnered with workers and created a share model. Today those workers are proud owners [of a share of the farm]," Maimane says.

He added that there should be an aggressive programme to redistribute land already owned by the state, including the number of farms it has bought. Equally so in urban areas, where DA-led city governments have already started to transfer ownership from the cities to individuals. Title, Maimane believes, will empower people economically. "They can invest in it or they can sell it if they want. People in the old Bantustans must get title to that land. Then they can do with it whatever they want," he said.

We can't just tinker with the economy, we need profound reform and immediate change. I have a plan which focuses on city-led economic development. Cities are the key drivers of growth. If Johannesburg grows then South Africa will grow.Maimane

Maimane's parents, his mother a cashier and father a factory worker, were not able to own their Soweto house under apartheid and merely had a long-term lease. When they were able to take a title on the house after 1994; it allowed them to lend against the property to send him to university, where he earned two master's degrees.

The ANC, Maimane says, is all at sea on this issue. "The president is completely confused. One week he talks about expropriation without compensation, the next he talks about it within the framework of the Constitution. Then Ronald Lamola says something else and Fikile Mbalula says they want to take everything. That whole organisation confused."

AFP/Getty Images
Mmusi Maimane with deputy chairperson Refiloe Nt'sekhe (left), and federal chairperson, Atholl Trollip after the party's federal congress in April.

He warns South Africans not to be cowed by Ramaphosa's words and that people must take the ANC "at its word". Ramaphosa, he contends, is part and parcel of an ANC that decided on expropriation without compensation as its policy. He cannot distance himself from it and that it will be "anomalous" should an ANC leader go against his own party's policy position.


South Africa missed the global recovery after the 2007/08 economic crash and poor policy, political uncertainty and low productivity have all conspired to mire the economy in a low-growth holding pattern. On Tuesday Statistics SA announced a contraction in quarter-on-quarter GDP numbers and Maimane says his party will soon announce a range of policies designed to enable recovery and growth.

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The DA's Herman Mashaba being carried on the shoulders of supporters after he was elected mayor of Johannesburg on 22 August 2016.

He argues voters will be able to clearly distinguish between DA and ANC policies in next year's election. "We can't just tinker with the economy, we need profound reform and immediate change. I have a plan which focuses on city-led economic development. Cities are the key drivers of growth. If Johannesburg grows then South Africa will grow," he explains.

He adds that a skilled labour force, courtesy of a functioning education system, is imperative. "And thirdly: build a capable state and then get out of the way."

South Africa's economy is stuck in the past, it is not modern and is going backwards.Maimane

A sustainable plan to build and provide bulk energy and water supplies, while totally revamping risk-prone state-owned enterprises is also part of the DA's offering to voters. "SAA? My plan would be: sell. And there are many others. But we can offer equity, have people invest in them and list them. Why can't other SOEs not learn from Telkom, that is growing?"

The cornerstone of recovery and growth, however, must be to help micro-enterprises and small businesses.

"Why are making it not easier for someone to start a small business? I want to put together a 'jobs and justice fund' from which they can lend, a venture-capital fund. The state must be the employer of last resort. We should rethink how we do extended public works, how we do BEE," Maimane says.

"South Africa's economy is stuck in the past, it is not modern and is going backwards."

The DA leader says it doesn't matter how successful Ramaphosa is in implementing ANC policy because those policies have failed. "It is those policies which brought us growth of 0.6 percent and 0.7 percent, 10-million people unemployed and corruption... corruption is ANC policy. How they set up networks of patronage and ensure that [SOE] boards are filled with ANC loyalists."


The ANC's losses in the 2016 municipal election have given the DA-led cities of Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane golden opportunities to show their mettle before voters go to the voting booths sometime next year. Maimane says they have learnt valuable lessons about how to manage coalitions — and that the party remains focused on wresting Gauteng away from the ANC.

Graphics24/Theuns Kruger

"What we've learnt: when you get into government make sure you have a plan on how to manage a coalition and have plans how to ensure service delivery and bring jobs to the people. That's what matters, it's irrelevant whether parties get along or not."

The party will in the coming weeks and months roll out its plans for Gauteng, where it governs in coalition in Johannesburg and Tshwane. Maimane says while everyone was preoccupied with Zuma, it went unnoticed that billions of rands were "stolen" from those two councils by their former political masters. "We forget of local government capture."

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
ANC supporters hold a mock coffin during their party's final election rally in Soweto, May 4, 2014.

He feels there is enough time to recover from the negative "drivers" (like the De Lille affair) that have impacted on DA support. Besides the Ipsos numbers, internal DA polling is also showing a decline in support while recent by-elections in the Western Cape showed the same trend. "Our growth potential is still strong. South Africans see we have had issues, but I think they know we will sort it out. Elections are about the future and I'm confident our vision is compelling."

Maimane, who's been DA leader for three years, adds he isn't surprised by the effect Ramaphosa has had on South Africans. "We've all had a relationship of nine years with Zuma, and when we broke up, it didn't matter who you put in his place, there would have been a surge. South Africans are desperate for something new. Soon, South Africans will realise the ANC is still the same party."