South African citizens are desperate for accountable leaders who come from their own communities said Mmusi Maimane founder of the One South Africa Movement in an interview this week after a 10-day trip across the country to identify leaders to stand as independent candidates in the next general election.
The former leader of the DA said he believes that the Constitutional Court judgment in June which opens “a new way for people to directly pick people” to represent them in Parliament is “a real game-changer” and “a massive breakthrough” towards moving power from political parties to the people.
Maimane who is also a Christian preacher said that now is a time for “all of us as leaders — particularly as the Church — to rise up” and speak up.
He said that citizens need to be educated out of a mindset that they are subjects of the government whereas “the government is subject to us”.
“One of the saddest things for me in the Church context — and that’s why I am grateful for people like archbishop Thabo Makgoba who are beginning to speak out — is that we have not been willing to stand up and say that we are in the majority and yet we are not getting what we need in a democratic environment.”
“This is the moment for the Church and if the Church misses this opportunity it will be shut out for a long period of time,” he said.
Maimane embarked on his 10-day national road trip after launching the Direct Election Bill on August 19 together with COPE leader Mosiuo Lekota and Christian marketplace leader Dr Michael Louis. The bill, which seeks, inter alia, to ensure citizens can elect public representatives who will be answerable to them, was tabled in Parliament last Friday.
He said his road trip was part of a journey to “identify the best 400 people [the number of MPs in the National Assembly] to stand so that they can genuinely bring about change in the nation”.
“Imagine if in an election you could say that in all the respective communities you could have leaders that come from there that you could choose to represent you in the National Assembly. I think it would make a massive impact.
“Your biggest difficulty that comes with that is, ‘a’, that people need to believe that it is possible, and we have to educate and help people to see that the Constitutional Court has made it possible, and ‘b’, for citizens to know that power is in their hands,” he said.
Earlier in the interview, Maimane spoke about his early journey of faith which included running the youth track of the South African Christian Leadership Assembly (SACLA) and serving in a cross-cultural church where leaders looked for ways to impact the nation.
He said that encountering “the genuine injustice” of a woman digging a hole in the ground for a toilet in 2008 was his “moment of holy discontent” that nudged him towards entering politics. Ironically, he answered the call to politics after preaching a message in which he said he believed that a young man was being called to enter politics but was delaying. After nobody responded to his message, his wife, Natalie, said she believed HE was the young man who was resisting a call to politics.
Maimane said his season in the DA was a valuable time of learning about the nation and about leadership.
“One of the hardest things that I had to navigate through was bringing different races together. That was always tough because we all have our hopes and fears and the hopes of one race can be the fears of another.”
He said he learned that leadership at any level was about holding firm to convictions about the things you want to change. “As a leader you don’t have to be the smartest one but you have to be the one who makes the tough decisions when they are required.”
He said being a leader in a political party constrains one to focus on the party. “The opportunity I feel I have now been given [as the leader of a non-partisan political movement] is to really focus on the nation.”
“And I guess that’s become one of the greatest freedoms — the accountability is not to the party but always to the citizens. And actually I’ve felt a deeper love for the people of our nation than I have felt ever before,” he said.
Expanding on the problem he sees with the political status quo in SA, he said: “If you were to look at a broad society or a church, there is something inherently wrong with a church which loves its own doctrine more than it loves the people it is designed to serve. Doctrine might be important, as is policy as is any idea. But you should never lose track of the people you are designated to serve because when you love those people it trumps most things.
“And I think that’s whats happened with our body politic — is that many political parties are self serving, self interested, self loving rather than actually loving the citizens of our nation,
“I really feel a genuine liberty and a freedom to do what I’ve never been able to do, express and engage. In a political party you invariably end up only engaging politicians. Beyond that space I am able to engage church leaders, faith-based organisations, civil society, business people in a way that says ‘How best can we do something for our nation?’ To be inspired genuinely by a vision that says things can change, we can really get back to meeting citizens on the ground to bring about the change we need.”
Commenting on the unique times we are living in, he said: “There is a global season of change. We don’t know what the world is going to look like post-Covid: what we do know is that when that does happen it will require men and women of faith to step out and lead in that context.
“And I think that is a very important and significant thing that is happening. So often in a prophetic environment you can’t also fail to see the signs of the time. Because the world has been confounded — literally confused by what has been going on — it tells me that we are not going to rely on what we’ve always done before and on just human wisdom.
“We genuinely need divine wisdom. Certainly, I believe we need leaders who have absolute conviction — in a sense that they will do what seems abnormal but it will be supernatural.
“To use a biblical narrative, you think about someone like Joseph. He was the first to introduce what economists today would call countercyclical budgeting which is a way of creating savings in a time when things are going well so that you can have an expansionary expenditure when they are not going to well — and invest in infrastructure.
“Joseph saw that from a dream. And I think there is a moment now when not only our Christian leaders ought to step out into that space but really to come up with ideas that are divinely inspired that will charter a new way.
“I think we still say today that politics are bad and ‘Don’t get involved’. Whereas today I think it’s our biggest opportunity for the Church to realise that nations are shaped by a few people — and if they are shaped by a few people why can’t they be inspired divinely?”
Maimane is one of the speakers at an upcoming public online event “The Great Reset: Be the Change” hosted by the School of Governance, an initiative that has been launched to equip leaders with Kingdom values and skills to lead in the political sphere. He will join other SA and international speakers who will engage in topics such as nation building, electoral reform, active citizenry, economic reset, a biblical worldview for governance, overcoming racism and running for office. Registration for the event from September 23 to 25 is open online.
Local government elections
On the prospect of having independent candidates ready to make an impact in next year’s local government elections, Maimane said he could not guarantee they would be ready for that on a national scale but it would be feasible to target communities where suitable leaders were available and where the communities wanted fresh leadership.
Independent candidates are already able to stand in local government elections, and based on conversations during his road trip he said he believed Nelson Mandela Bay is a metro they could possibly target. “The political system has failed the citizens of Nelson Mandela Bay where politicians have been having inward-looking fights and the citizens are just spectators to the drama unfolding before there.
He said Tshwane, where “bizarrely the capital city of our country has got communities without water” is another city they could focus on during the local government elections. “If there are leaders and citizens in those communities who feel they need to stand as independents we must support them.”
As we wound up the interview, Maimane again emphasised his conviction that there is an urgent need to design and implement a new way of politics that ensures that political leaders become accountable to citizens.
He said that “as somebody who has served in a big political party” he could state that “the only time that political parties are inclined to listen is at the ballot box”.
He said the problem is that the systems of parties are set up so that politicians are answerable first and foremost to the party and not to citizens.
“There is no citizen who can wake up tomorrow morning and say we demand that this person [politician] here must resign or be prosecuted or whatever. They cant do it because the party political system still protects its own,” he said.
“Any law in this country has to go through public consultations and the government pays lip service to it but it is inconsequential.The Constitution was written precisely so that it puts citizens at the centre of it — and political parties have found a way to ignore that and we really have to return them back to a place where we say: ‘No, no, no, in a democracy you are subject to citizens.
“And all over the world this relationship between political principals and its own leaders is being tested and where politicians have not found a way to genuinely listen, citizens have taken other actions to force them to listen. Thats why there are heightened levels of protests all over the world.
Using an analogy of an app that allows customers to rate the service of an Uber driver, he said there is a need to design a way that politicians can be elected to deliver on certain policies and values and be rated on a regular basis.
My greatest worry is that if nobody genuinely listens next year for the people of SA is going to be hard because you will have a government without money, and icapability to listen, a lack of trust and its citizens therefore they will feel a need to protest.”