Mmusi Maimane was elected as the first black leader of the Democratic Alliance at the end of the party’s two day electoral conference in Nelson Mandela Bay on Sunday.
Addressing the thousands of delegates who could barely contain their excitement as they sang and danced in celebration of his victory, Maimane (34) said he wanted the next part of the DA story to be how the party challenged for power at a national level and won.
“I want it to be the story of a party that was victorious because it stayed true to its values. I want it to be the story of how a nonracial party built a political home for all South Africans,” he said.
With hundreds of delegates brandishing posters with his face and the “Believe in Tomorrow” slogan the whole weekend, the parliamentary leader’s victory was certain even before the congress started on Saturday, with his supports outnumbering those of former federal chairperson and contender Wilmot James.
Maimane’s ally, Eastern Cape DA leader and Nelson Mandela Metro mayoral candidate Athol Trollip, came out victorious as the party’s federal chairperson. Trollip was up against MP Makashule Gana and the Western Cape’s Masizole Mnqasela. A Discovery Church pastor, Maimane said their values would lead them to victory.
“That is because we stand together with many South Africans who share the same set of values as us. The people who share our values cannot be defined by race or by class. They do not live in a particular part of the country. The people who share our values are the millions of people, from all backgrounds, who want to work hard, to provide for their families and to live in peace. Our values can be summed up in these three words: freedom, fairness and opportunity.
“In a free society every individual has the freedom to make their own choices about the life they want to live. That is why we completely reject discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation.”
During his speech, Maimane also took an opportunity to address the controversial comment made by veteran journalist Allister Sparks, who counted apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd as one of the smartest politicians in South Africa, causing quite a stir on social media.
“The system of racial classification devised by Hendrik Verwoerd was evil and deplorable, and we cannot stay trapped in that way of thinking. We must triumph over the evil of apartheid by building a new bridge into a new future. We must not remain victims of our yesterday, we must believe in tomorrow.”
Time is everything
Maimane is confident that a year will be more than enough time to garner more support for the party in the build-up to the 2016 elections. Addressing journalists after his victory, he said time was everything.
“But one of the important things about our party is that we have an exceptional team already in place. Another thing that’s also vital remains intact and led quite exceptionally by the whole body. I think a year is sufficient to take the journey forward and prepare for 2019.”
Hope for SA
On Saturday, Helen Zille, who has led the party for eight years, declared herself ready to work with the new leadership to take the party to the 2016 local government elections.
The Western Cape premier delivered her last address as the leader of the official opposition on day one of the party’s national elective congress in Port Elizabeth, after emotional tributes from different leaders, friends and family, praising her for the years she has spent growing the party.
Called the best political tactician and a mother who demanded the best of her children during the tributes, Zille said the DA has not just been a big part of her life, it has often felt like her whole life.
She said the DA remained determined to see South Africa achieve what so few had been able to and for the country to become a beacon of hope for the developing world.
“This congress heralds a turning point, not only for the DA, but for South Africa. We are the only party that has managed to dislodge the ANC from seats of power, through the ballot box, and we now govern a province, a major metro and 26 local authorities across the country,” she said. “And that was just the start. As we approach the 2016 local elections, we are knocking at the door of three more metros.”
Desiree van der Walt, Ivan Meyer and Refiloe Ntsekhe were named as the deputy federal chairpersons, with James Selfe named the federal council chairperson, unopposed.
New values charter
Almost 1 500 delegates attended the congress at the Boardwalk Convention Centre in Port Elizabeth to usher in a new leader. This after Helen Zille announced she was stepping down as leader over a month ago, giving the contenders just weeks to campaign and garner support from the different provinces.
With struggle songs mixed in with the regular DA playlist of Brenda Fassie’s Vulindlela, Tina Turner’s Simply the Best and other dance songs, the two day congress started with the tribute to Helen Zille and included constitutional amendments, freedom, government and opportunity resolutions.
The party’s new values charter was also adopted at the congress, which says that families, however uniquely structured, helped build successful individuals and provided them a foundation with which to make sense of the world and to realise their full potential as individuals.
Maimane said the document, which was lively debated before it was adopted on Saturday, did not prescribe what a family should look like.
“A man with a man, a woman with a woman, a single mother or father. We have different constructs of family. So I don’t think the document is illiberal in the way that was argued, it is simply understanding that liberal politics in South Africa and globally are engaged with the question of how do we deal with the different constructs.”
Going forward, DA party leaders including Maimane, who will remain the party’s parliamentary leader, are preaching unity.