The DA's Mr Delivery
It’s been a good year for David Maynier, apart perhaps from the minor insult of being called a chihuahua by Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu.
Just six months after being sworn in as an MP, the 41-year-old Democratic Alliance (DA) defence spokesperson has become a sort of poster boy for just how effective an opposition parliamentarian can be at holding the executive to account.
It was during the mild-mannered Maynier’s astute probing of Armscor’s annual report in a committee meeting that the hugely bloated cost of the R47-billion Airbus deal was finally exposed.
The revelations led to Cabinet’s decision earlier this month to scrap the disastrous contract with Airbus Military.
Maynier’s questioning of Armscor CEO Sipho Thomo’s business interests and huge increases in earnings helped to lead to Thomo’s axing.
Ruling party bigwigs don’t quite know how to handle Maynier, it seems. One minute Nyamezeli Booi, ANC chief whip and chairperson of Parliament’s defence committee, calls for Maynier’s dismissal (after his public disclosure of alleged dodgy arms deals with Iran, Zimbabwe and Syria) and the next Booi and ANC veteran Andrew Mlangeni are slapping him on the back for his hard work on the Airbus and Armscor issues.
One minute the minister is suggesting he’s a small Mexican canine and the next she’s joking about how she’s received intelligence about a DA party where “there was an award for the most robust member of Parliament—the one who sleeps the most on benches, etcetera. Then, there was one for—guess who will not get a present from the minister—and you know who got the prize? David. Congratulations, Hon[ourable member] David.”
The thing about Maynier, though, is he’s really the DA’s “Mr Delivery”. It was Maynier who in 2005 modernised the party’s outdated fundraising operations, resulting in the raising of just under R20-million in that year alone. Before Maynier’s involvement in this area, it had taken the party six years to raise R50-million.
Maynier, who was Tony Leon’s chief of staff before being recruited as director of fundraising by party CEO Ryan Coetzee, is neither smug nor brash about his achievements.
“I found it very rewarding, a bit like setting up one’s own business,” he recalls. And if he had fundraised for the ANC? “The amounts would have been stratospheric,” Maynier says.
Maynier was also responsible for the party’s successful 2009 election campaign that saw the DA, with new leader Helen Zille, take the Western Cape from the ANC with 51,3% of the vote. (It had won 27% in 2004.)
It is difficult to get anyone within the party—ordinarily well staffed with sharp tongues—to say anything nasty about Maynier. “Never ruffled feathers and played up to Ryan. Was very hard-working and enthusiastic,” said one stalwart.
He attributes his successes, simply and unashamedly, to the fact that “I am the guy that works until 5am in the morning. And I read every single page, every single reference and every single footnote of the 500-page document.”
So who are his role models? “Well, Helen Suzman, definitely. I have the quote I used in my maiden speech framed and up in my office.”
The quote reads: “I hate bullies. I stand for simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights. They are indispensable elements in a democratic society and well worth fighting for.”
Minister Sisulu mistook “bullies” for “bullets” and viciously castigated Maynier in response: “Mr Maynier, let me assure you that the quotation you took from Helen Suzman has no effect here. All of the honourable members who are here do not like bullets, especially those who took bullets to ensure that this country is a free and democratic country. We took those bullets for you to sit there today. We don’t like them. So, this doesn’t wash with us.”
Maynier’s father, Darcy, was a banker and his mother, Heather, was a housewife. It was, says Maynier, “a solid liberal family”. He graduated from Grey High School—“actually, the first authoritarian system I encountered”—before spending three years in the navy and two years travelling overseas. After that, he studied politics and economics at the University of Cape Town.
The itinerant nature of early life might help to explain Maynier’s temperament; his need to be liked and to succeed. He has, he explains, only lost his temper twice in the past 10 years—“and I can remember both occasions”.
Politics, for Maynier, is an emotional rather than an intellectual impulse. “I am triggered by things. I am triggered by people who are hungry, by the abuse of power. I am triggered by people who don’t have access to schoolbooks or who have to sit under a tree. The drive is emotional.”
Maynier was recruited in 1999 as a researcher for the Democratic Party. It was not his first career choice. He had wanted to be a diplomat and to “speak up for South Africa”.
But it was as a researcher that he had an epiphany. “I was researching a question about misconduct and disciplinary action in the intelligence services. The reply that came in was sensational, something about people just being reprimanded for crimes like murder. I remember getting on to one of the newspaper front pages and starting a big debate in Parliament, and that is when the light came on for me.”
This year Maynier found himself 11th on the DA’s national list. He says his current portfolio was also not his first choice. “My first choice was state security and I am actually immensely grateful to Athol Trollip, Ian Davidson and Mike Ellis for not giving me my first choice. I think they made exactly the right decision.
“Their argument was that the intelligence portfolio routinely meets in camera; there is an oath of office and an oath of secrecy. One cannot disclose anything that one learns on the committee, so for a younger member of the caucus it can be stifling to one’s career.”
What drives Maynier is transparency and democratic control of the defence force. The arms deal, he says, overwhelmed the defence portfolio committee and security cluster in the previous Parliament.
“Now the arms deal no longer dominates the political environment like it did. It doesn’t mean that it has gone away. I am not only a member of the portfolio committee but I am also an alternate member on [public accounts watchdog] Scopa, and I am there for the specific purpose to continue to pursue what we call ‘the Arms Deal’. Themba Godi, the chairperson of the committee, has already distributed the relevant documents and we will start to deal with them during the next year.”
democracy and democratic control of security services—how they [police, defence and intelligence] are controlled, what kind of democratic architecture one needs to control them.”
Fifteen years into democracy, he says, no one really understands the role of the defence force or to what end money is being spent on it.
The chihuahua, it turns out, is actually a well-trained Rottweiler.