History was made in South Africa on Mothers’ Day as the DA concluded its federal congress by electing its first black leader. Mmusi Maimane was elected with a majority of 90%, beating three other would be leaders to take over the reigns from Helen Zille, who has led the party for the past eight years. This result is in tandem with the predictions that were made by his campaign team, which had forecast that he would win the election with a landslide of 88% of the 1 425 delegates who attended the congress in Port Elizabeth.
While the race for the succession of Helen Zille seemed to be only between Maimane and Dr Wilmot James, there were two other dark horses who did not seem to enjoy the same popularity as the two. Adrian Naidoo and Morgan Oliphant were also contesting for the party’s leadership. As can be expected, their effect on the results was not that much. Before the election, the party’s leader from 1994, Tony Leon had sounded a warning to whoever would take over leadership of the party to work towards unifying the party. In his words, Leon said, “He (the winner) has to advance the interests of the whole party and not just those who support him.”
In his acceptance speech, Maimane called on all those that had not supported him to work with him in developing the party and the country. “And so I want to say to all of you, whether or not you voted for me, let us unite today behind our shared values,” he said in the opening stages of his address. Maimane went on to pay tribute to the party’s past leaders, Helen Zille and Tony Leon before her and the amount of work they had put in before handing over the reigns.
The new leader of the DA was at great pains to extoll the importance of education as he made constant reference to a cousin of his who had dropped out of school and effectively tied this in with his party’s core values of freedom, fairness and opportunity. Maimane thrust headlong into the sometimes sensitive debate of colour and consequently race when he said that, “And that is why I simply don’t agree with those who say they don’t see colour. Because, if you don’t see that I’m black, then you don’t see me,” he said, adding that this, however should not be used to define individuals.
In conclusion, in a thinly veiled attack on fellow opposition party, EFF whose leader, Julius Malema had recently quipped that Maimane would turn the DA into a church, Maimane said the following: “While they are tearing down statues, we will be building schools and creating jobs. While they illegally invade land, we will be implementing successful land reform programmes. While they trade on the divisions of the past, we will position the DA as the party of tomorrow. While they play on people’s fears, we will connect with voters on the basis of shared values. We must defend the constitution of the Republic at all costs.”