/ 29 May 2014

Mmusi Maimane’s parliamentary leader acceptance speech

DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane.

To be elected as the Democratic Alliance (DA) leader in Parliament, the leader of the official opposition, is the most humbling and heartening honour.

I stand on the shoulders of my excellent predecessors – Athol Trollip and Lindiwe Mazibuko. They brought different qualities to the role, but both added an enormous amount of value. I hope that I am able to emulate their achievements and take our project forward the way they both did.

I walked a winding and reflective road in making the decision to stand for parliamentary leader. It was important for me to solicit and listen to advice from people with the party’s and my own best interests at heart. Some people did express reservations at my lack of experience in Parliament. This has weighed heavily on me throughout.

But in politics, as in life, it is sometimes important to follow your gut. And mine told me that this was where I could add the most value at this stage in my career.  The other narrative in the media and elsewhere has, predictably, been centred on the colour of my skin. I find this bizarre 20 years into our new democracy. Detractors – most of whom happen to be black – say my election smacks of tokenism, that it is just because the DA needs another black face.

This cuts deep. That people who faced the same history of discrimination as I did would judge me in this way is truly peculiar. I sometimes wonder if black people are not their own worst enemies when it comes to the ongoing struggle to stand up and be counted as equals in post-apartheid South Africa.

It was when I reflected on what the question meant that I overcame its detraction. Because yes, the DA does need black faces. It needs black leaders, just like it needs coloured leaders, white leaders and Indian leaders. As a party for all people, we must be as diverse as we can.

And therefore when the suggestion is made that I put myself forward because I am black, there is a part of truth in that – I want to see more and more people of all races fill leadership positions. But being black does not solely define who I am.

In the DA we do not obsess over race. We are obsessed with excellence and commitment to the cause. Yet, for some reason, when those qualities manifest in a leader of colour, their skin colour somehow trumps them.

I am determined to stop this narrative. For it is not my race, but the person I am as a whole that motivated my nomination. Over the next few years, I hope to prove this in deed, and not just word.

When I look back on the journey so far I am proud of what we have achieved. Our Gauteng campaign across thousands and thousands of kilometres, meeting hundreds of fellow South Africans every day, brought us closer than ever to extinguishing the majority vote of the governing party. We grew significant support in that province; 40,8% growth in fact, and we grew our seat number by 7 in that province.

Our challenge is to take that success and do the same nationally, gradually building ourselves into an electable national government; an alternative to the current government.

But internally we have to strive for unity of purpose and unity of efforts. This weighed on my decision too, and having set my own vision against this imperative I was confident that unity could be achieved. That, I believe, is best done from the seat of parliamentary leader.

One of the greatest challenges we face are differences over our fundamental values. We are growing every day, and that means that individuals form other organisations are finding a new home within the DA. As a dynamic organisation we welcome this new blood and fresh thinking.

We need to make sure that the values of the open, opportunity society for all remain our bedrock. We have to stop internal mobilisation on the basis of race or any other ascribed attribute. Let us judge people on the content of their character and the contribution they can make to furthering our cause.

At the same time, we must not be held captive by those who believe they have the monopoly of wisdom on what it means to be a member of this organisation. Let us embrace change without compromising our values.

I am a liberal, and unashamedly so. I am for the liberal cause, and I am for driving that cause. And in so, we will create an alternative in Parliament that will be defined by our commitment to individual freedom, the rule of law and a market economy that creates jobs.

I learn from people of all walks, every day of my life. I have come to know Mr Herman Mashaba – a black South African who ventured bravely into the world of business and who has made a great success. He is the expression of what an open, opportunity society looks like. We welcome him warmly into the DA.

An open, opportunity society is a society where the government does not interfere, but protects people from falling into extreme poverty; that allows the free market to thrive so that people can fulfil their dreams. It is a society where education doesn’t just get the biggest budget, but gets the biggest bang for our buck. It is a society where black South Africans are allowed to advance through real affirmative action that empowers people to compete on an even footing.

Our parliamentary team is ready to advance an alternative and to hold the government to account. But this parliamentary caucus will be equally outwardly focused. We will find strength in the people of South Africa, and we will be regulars in their communities. 

I have so much more to learn as this journey unfolds, this is the moment in time for me to do so from the position of parliamentary leader of the official opposition.