December 2, 2019

How I Discovered Mmusi Maimane

By Helen Zille






As we were going through the excruciating process of candidate selection for the 2011 election, I got a call from Ian Davidson. He was the chief whip of our parliamentary caucus, on whose judgement I relied a lot. He was helping me identify potential mayoral candidates.

“Going on first impressions, he certainly had the ‘right stuff’ to be our mayoral candidate”

Two months earlier, he had accompanied me to try to persuade Bobby Godsell to make himself available. Bobby, who had chaired the Progressive Party Youth when both Ian and I were members in the early 1970s, had a high public profile after his recent role as board chairman of Eskom. His contretemps with its dysfunctional management before his resignation was celebrated as a principled move after a valiant attempt to improve Eskom’s governance. Bobby had a reputation as a leader, manager and excellent communicator. He could cross political fault lines. I thought he fitted the bill. When he said an emphatic no, however, we had to cast the net wider.

Ian was also a member of the broader candidate-selection panel in Johannesburg. He phoned me to say they had interviewed an excellent candidate. ’I think we may have found a mayoral candidate,’ said Ian. ‘You need to come up to Johannesburg and meet him.’

Mmusi Maimane: He was a complete novice in politics.

That was on the Monday. On Friday morning Ian and I arrived to have breakfast with Mmusi Maimane at a Rosebank hotel.

The foyer was filled with young business executives, all fancy gadgets, flashy watches and shiny shoes, and purposefully on the move. A tall young man emerged from the crowd, crisp white shirt and plain tie against a dark suit. He recognised me. ‘Good morning, Mrs. Zille.’ He said with comfortable formality. ’I’m Mmusi.’

Over a light breakfast he told Ian and me about himself. It couldn’t have been a better story, from his childhood in Soweto, his parents’ sacrifice to educate him, his academic achievements, his vision for the future of his young family, and for all South Africans.

It’s very hard to judge someone at a first meeting but, going on first impressions, he certainly had the ‘right stuff’ to be our mayoral candidate for Johannesburg.

There were big risks. He was a complete novice in politics. That is always a serious issue. But he was perceptive enough to know that. Mmusi was more concerned about it than I was, but I eventually persuaded him to throw his hat in the ring. He stood against an experienced and excellent councillor and party stalwart. Jack Bloom, who would have made an outstanding mayor. But the majority of the selection panel swung behind Mmusi’s charisma, flair and communication skills (backed by his obvious intelligence)-all crucial attributes in politics. And, of course, he was black.

Excerpted from Not Without A Fight: The Autobiography by Helen Zille, Published August 2016 by Penguin Random House, South Africa. The book was one of the 16 that were the focus of conversations at the 20th Lagos Book and Art Festival, November 5-11, 2018.


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