You either want to make a noise or make a difference

Foto's: Lucas Kemper.

Mmusi Maimane sprak op 8 september de negende BKB Lezing uit over de huidige situatie in Zuid-Afrika, over progressieve politiek, over leiderschap in een wereld op drift en over zijn ideeën voor een inclusieve samenleving. Dit is zijn verhaal.

Ladies and gentlemen, I gather there are many South Africans here, and it is my absolute great privilege to be able to speak to you tonight. Odwa, thank you so much for your remarks and your deeply inspiring story. I do look forward to you taking over from me, because I think South Africans like you are a great inspiration and I have made it my life mission to work for South Africans like you.

I have had a great time being here in Amsterdam. It is my first visit ever here, a country that as a child who grew up in Soweto, we had a lot to do with. You wouldn’t believe it but many of us who are soccer lovers supported your country. Players like Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten. So many of them were great.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed a great privilege to speak to you about this continent I love and the country I come from. You catch us at an incredible time in a period of hope, yet in some difficult times in Africa and South Africa. I get the privilege to speak to you about the party I lead and certainly in some ways the story of Odwa and how I think that the story of all South Africans, should no be, like his story, one of difficulty, but one of hope. The topic I was asked to speak about tonight is one of progressive politics in a divided society and it does in fact sum up perfectly the challenge that South Africa faces, as we attempt to navigate our way into a prosperous and an inclusive society, in a country that still bears the scars of a deeply unjust past and an unjust system. What makes this task so hard is the crude nature of nationalism and the politics of identity that still dominate our landscape twenty-three years after the ultimate expression of nationalism and identity politics, the Apartheid state, was dismantled. We are again seeing a resurgence and we have seen and lived through what nationalism does. Perhaps South Africa is not unique when you look at what is happening in these parts of the world, when you consider the fact that nationalism or racial nationalism is equally on the rise. Just recently, Brexit maybe symbolises this.

A child like myself who grew up in Soweto perhaps doesn’t have a frank concept or understanding of what apartheid was. Yet I recall as a young boy walking into the towns and seeing for myself what it means to have different lines for different races. I recently experienced this with my wife as we arrived at the UK borders. She carries a British passport and at the customs lines, it said in boldness European/Non-European. It harked back to those days when in South Africa the signs used to say blankes/nie-blankes.

But to be frank, this challenge South Africans have lived through for centuries, from British nationalism of our colonial past to Afrikaner nationalism of what apartheid was and now more recently to African nationalism of the modern-day ANC. It has in fact become part of our country’s DNA and our people still respond strongly and emotionally to that particular subject. We all have lived through a great transition in South Africa from a racially segregated pariah state to a miracle democracy, that other have come to know as the so-called rainbow nation. In the years leading up to and shortly after our first democratic election, South Africa was indeed the darling of the world. Many of you know our story from heroes and people like Nelson Mandela. It is a story of inspiration. It is a story of exceptionalism. But perhaps a story that we believed in too much. We believed in our own exceptionalism to the point that we maybe took our eyes off the real change that is needed, a change that required that we are not only rainbow in identity, but also in our economy, in our pursuit of an inclusive South Africa.

Our story started off well, with leaders like Nelson Mandela. He embodied a transition full of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of rebuilding and inclusion. For many of us these words and these values live on in the fabric of our souls. His strong yet humble style of statesmanship is largely why we managed to avoid a civil war in those dark days.

In my office in parliament as leader of the opposition I have a picture of Nelson Mandela as a constant reminder to his brave statement in his treason trial (1), that his fight was really against domination of any kind whether it was black on white or white on black. And these ideals he pursued epitomized Nelson Mandela’s presidency. He reminded us again when he was inaugurated as president on the 10th of May 1994, ironically the same date that I was elected as leader of the DA, that never again shall one race have the ability to dominate another. It is those politics that I keep reminding myself of. It is that generation who navigated through very difficult times of the late 1980s to early 1994 where South Africa’s levels of violence were high and business confidence was low. Yet those were the prevailing conditions for change. It is leaders like Nelson Mandela who managed to navigate us through a very difficult period into the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 and subsequent to that were part of a generation who authored what many called the most progressive and protective constitution in the world, a document upon which appears the guarantees of a better life for all citizens. Others would say these were glorious days, but there were equally difficult days. I look back at those days and draw inspiration for them, because sometimes when I look at the story of South Africa today it can feel like a story of despair, but I bet you the generation of Nelson Mandela felt that and knew that, like with most things in life, it is never just despair. It is also a story of hope.


You know, ladies and gentlemen, hindsight is always perfect and gives us the possibility to look at all the flaws. We must recognize that our constitution had it shortcomings too and chief amongst those shortcomings was the whole essence of naivety. It was written with a man like Nelson Mandela in mind and lost touch with the fact that another could arise in office who maybe had with him seven hundred charges of corruption. It gave to the president the power to appoint key people into office and in fact many of those powers were virtually unchecked. Many of the authors did not foresee that such a historically proud liberation movement as the ANC was, would later be described by former president Thabo Mbeki as an ignoble organization. Our constitution did maybe not foresee that. In fact, as others would say it, post the era of Nelson Mandela the ANC adopted a policy called cadre deployment, which was in many ways an execution of their stated objective that they articulated in a document called the national democratic revolution, that their sole job was to capture the levers of state and to be able to control power. So, others would say: these were the origins of what state capture is. And perhaps what we are seeing today is simply a fulfilment of that. It’s not unique to the ANC. It is true for many national liberation movements when you traverse the continent. It is something that epitomizes and is the hallmark of many in the continent, as in fact true in many parts of the world when you look at what is happening in Turkey today.

When liberation movements become parties of government, they invariably follow the same playbook to cling to power. They capture the state. They capture parliament. They capture the media, the security forces and various democratic institutions. They capture the large state companies and where possible they even pursue the judiciary or remove them. Once you have all of these pawns in place, the democratic process is well and truly subverted. In its place, we will replace it with a form of majoritarianism that often relies on nationalism and becomes worse at serving our people but becomes great at protecting those in power. I remind you of the recent constitutional court judgment that was taken against Jacob Zuma. It stated that this was a president who had violated the constitution. It came to parliament, the place that was designed to hold those in power to account. Yet here it was that the ANC used its majority to absolve Jacob Zuma of any political wrongdoing.

Post-liberation movements follow this path and follow it almost as a playbook that gets repeated everywhere. They do the exact opposite of what democratic institutions are designed to do. And the question I often lament is this: how do you have democracy without democrats? It is these men and women who rise to power as an access to resources and to control the state, who ultimately end up describing their political opponents as enemies. They use evocative language that describes opposition as enemies and people who are just designed to pursue regime change.

Recently, ladies and gentlemen, I had a trip to Zambia, a country not far from South Africa. I boarded a plane with my colleague Geordin Hill-Lewis who is here and we had one member of our team who travelled with us. When we got to the tarmac in Lusaka, I looked out the window and an army of men and women came marching towards the plane. I thought to myself: I wonder if somebody in this plane is carrying drugs because this operation looks like somebody is in real trouble. I thought to myself, either that is one scenario or they are indeed coming for me. So, like any good politician I thought it can’t be. If I say it happened and I did not capture it on my phone then it didn’t happen. So, I pulled out my phone and started to take pictures to which they rushed into the plane. They looked at me and said: “you sir, are not coming into this country.” I said: “on what basis and on what decision do you make such rules?” They said: “we are not obligated to tell you.” I told them that I had come to Zambia to support Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the opposition who had been locked up in jail in Zambia simply because he refused to move out of the way of the motorcade of the president. He had been put in solitary confinement for reasons unbeknown. The Zambian government took a decision to say: without any due process, without any rules, my reasons for entering that country were declined. It was for the first time that I thought to myself a nation had declared me undesirable. I nearly wanted to respond to them to say: that is not what my wife thinks, but that is a separate conversation.

It was after that I realized that democracy however precious it is and however powerful it is remains incredibly fragile. You see, those who liberated us, quickly forgot the struggle that we fought to allow each citizen rights and they quickly become dictators. And as my friends in Kenya always remind us: at first, we must be liberated and then we must liberate ourselves from the liberators. So, ladies and gentlemen, it is not only that they subvert the democratic and traditional process. Instead in fact, you end up with economies that leave too many poor, too many left aside. The state of South Africa today is one where South Africans cannot find work. Nine million South Africans cannot find work. More than half of them are young people like Odwa. And that is why this is the essence of our challenge. Whilst others are suggesting that race relations in South Africa are failing, my deep challenge is to say: South Africa has failed to build an inclusive society in which one has the ability to transition away from nationalist identity politics towards rights of all individuals. We need to transcend this dead end that liberation politics are. It is what I get up to every morning, with the hope that we can bring change to South Africa. We have to, ladies and gentlemen, break the cycle, because it is a cycle. It is a cycle were too often governments that replaced the original liberation movement waste no time in becoming the same nationalist movements themselves, following the same path to holding on to power. It is what has destroyed countries. It is what keeps the bulk of the nations trapped in poverty. Because those governments simply become focused on usurping resources and forget the task of creating a better life for the people they are elected to serve. If we do want to do things differently, then we are going to have to pioneer a new form of politics. We are going to have to transcend and transition Africa from liberation politics to a brand-new challenge. It is my struggle. It is my hope. It is my fight. And it is not one which I am fighting alone, for there are many in the continent that are joining us.

There are many who are standing up and saying we have to abandon racial identity which has caused us so much strife as we saw in countries such as Rwanda to its devastating end. It is with many we are saying we have to put an end to big man politics that have festered for decades on the African continent. It is so many who are standing up and saying that we have to consign a century of British nationalism, half a century of Africaner nationalism and over two decades of African nationalism to the scrap heap of history, replacing it with true democracy and real democrats. They stand together and say more importantly: we have to offer a different narrative. We have to offer a different narrative even about Africa that when so many look at our continent they think that we are a forgotten continent.

The next decade – and decades to come – will be Africa’s decade. It will be a decade where we can move from a deeply divided, desperately poor and mostly unemployed society. We will begin to build an economy that is inclusive. It requires the courage like I took, where we turn our back on the party of our parents to a new future. And that is why I have the great privilege of leading the DA, because it is in the DA where a black South African can sit next to white South Africans as equal citizens, where in fact a labourer can stand in the same place as a businessman, where a Jew can sit and have a meal with a Muslim and where the rich can stand side-by-side with poor South Africans. It is this diverse organisation that I believe will chart a new way. Not only for South Africa, I do believe in partnership with so many others in the continent.

I love South Africa. I love our nation when I look at our nation today and the fifty-six million people who call it home and the many who flock to our cities each year in desperate search of economic opportunities. But I want to tell you that the story is becoming different, that in spite of rapid urbanization we still have a large rural population which remains mostly poor, unemployed and relies on a combination of welfare grants and subsistence farming to survive. This change will require us to build economies that are driven by cities, where more find places where microenterprises can thrive.

A recent report by a national statistics body argues that in fact more than thirty million South Africans or just over fifty-five percent live below the poverty line. Our country distributes over seventeen million social grants each month. These are small payments that are extremely hard to survive on, but due to the sheer numbers, this places an enormous strain on our fiscus. At last count as I said, more than nine point three million South Africans remain unemployed, of which many are under the age of thirty. We have unfortunately the highest numbers in the world of unemployment and inequality. Our great difficulty is that even our economy is starting to grow into recession. In fact, our GDP per capita has been declining for three years now. We have already been downgraded to junk status by two major rating agencies in the wake of sustained and corrupt political meddling in our executive powers.

And like the generation that grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, they would hear these words and say: perhaps if Nelson Mandela was here and say Maimane: We live through exactly similar times. It requires change. And in fact, this is a perfect storm of frustration and anger amongst the people who were promised a better life and yet we are still no closer to achieving it. The economic freedom did not follow their political freedom and this has become a society of high discontent, sadly. Along with all of these challenges a greater scandal has unfolded in our political history and our democratic history. Over the past years we have seen the great extent of what emails that have been leaked through a rich Gupta family who after our president has captured the state, have in fact captured him. It is why last week, when I was in the UK, it was good to learn that a PR company like Bell Pottinger, after much of the work of reporting them and dealing with them legally, has now been expelled from the UK PR firms, simply because they went out whilst absolving the ANC from its own responsibility of delivering change and they went out and ran a campaign of fanning racial hatred in our country in order to benefit their clients. I am sad to say this but I am glad that they have paid the ultimate price, for ultimately you can’t commit such a brazen crime against the people of South Africa and get away with it. (2) It is a modus operandi that occurs too often in the continent, that when liberation movements fail, the only card that remains left to play is one of racial mobilisation, scapegoating, as an exercise to hold on to power. They devise such language to divide our society so they can just remain in power. They breed a level of racial mistrust and resentment. It’s the ANC’s playbook. It is the playbook of so many others. I believe in change.


Odwa, to answer your question at this point, we have to prove to so many people that in fact hard work does reward. We have to demonstrate that access to political power is not access to simply patronage. It is the hard work of saying we must bring change and be of service to our people and, yes, there are many role models who may be politicians, who access political power and drive around in Mercedes Benzes. Our job is to change that. We are a generation of leaders that must show so many that hard work does reward and political leadership is about serving others. South Africa stands at a moment of great hope and great change. Whilst I might have described a picture to you that may seem bleak, South Africa has still great elements to it. It is a country that today still has an incredibly independent judiciary and vibrant media, that has proven the fact that even though the Guptas and PR agencies can put issues on the table, under-resourced journalists and editors have been revealing and exposing the devise of tactics of such criminals who have been stealing from our people. Our people have shown that even before 1994 they were resilient enough to fight for change and I believe they will do it again, because we have to build this inclusive society where all have access to opportunities. And we have to overcome this language and transcend language that divides us and transcend class that sets us apart. We have to build a society based on values that all human beings share. The party that I lead, the Democratic Alliance, is built on these values. And it’s these values that say they can stand as a foundation for a strong unified nation, where out of the ashes of a destructive system a prosperous nation can grow. I draw inspiration from the first treason trial that Nelson Mandela had, where in fact so many from different races stood together to fight a system that excluded a race. They recognized that they weren’t fighting a race. They were fighting a system.

There are others today who confuse that struggle to suggest that it was a struggle amongst races. It was a struggle of a group of races designed to fight a system that oppressed a race. They were held together by a group of values. It is these values that we have taken on today saying we want to build a new coalition in South Africa, a coalition of people who will stand for values of constitutionalism, the rule of law, non-racialism, an inclusive economy, zero tolerance for corruption and ultimately building a capable state. These in your nation may sound like they are taken for granted, but in our country and in our continent, this is something we have to struggle for and fight for. It is the belief that must be engendered to all people that the constitution is the supreme law of the land and it is non-negotiable. Whether you are president, whether you are political party or whether you are ordinary citizens, your rights are clearly the same in front of the same law. And those entrusted to execute power must play by the same rules. This is not a fluid concept or a grey area. We either choose to subscribe to it in full or we abandon it, and as members of parliament and South Africans we pledge our allegiance to the constitution, when ultimately that allegiance in a new coalition that I am hoping to build must trump all other loyalties.

We must ensure that the constitution sits in the hands of those who are obligated to honour it and give meaning to the progressive rights that are enshrined in it. We have to ensure, ladies and gentlemen, that the concept of a rule of law is one that is upheld by all and that these just laws are applied equally to all citizens, whether you are employed or homeless or regardless of where you come from. It is this rule of law that must ensure that it protects your right to safety, your right to own property as a private citizen, your right to move where you want or freely associate with whomever you choose, because there are some political parties that believe it is the constitution that is at flaw and therefore these rights must be subsumed in a world where we can build a Venezuela-type style. I argue the case that the safest thing that we can hold on to South Africa is that constitution and the rule of law. And it must be universally applied for all South Africans.

Furthermore, we must build an inclusive economy, one that is based on non-racialism and with our past you may even wonder why this is often not a fight that all South Africans are pursuing. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it is possible to achieve that and what it requires is that we need a leadership that stops answering the questions of yesterday, but begins to address the questions of tomorrow. Where we can inspire for so many people a deep sense of hope, that says it is possible for young people to find work through microenterprise and a program that industrializes and creates work for more people.

I always maintain that we can either return to a place where people are discriminated against, dehumanized on the basis of race or we can pursue a place where for the purposes of our economy, whether you are black or white, rich or poor, you work hard to ensure that there is prosperity for all South Africans. You would have read at great length about our dream to build a much fairer society, a society where more have got access to opportunity. This can be achieved.

And we do need to apply legislation that allows for more people to be included. It requires that we build this inclusive market economy that drives growth and creates work. These are fundamentals. These are things that all societies and our society must pursue to achieve economic freedom for millions of people who find themselves shut out. It is in this case that when I look at populists I always say to them you have this choice: you either want to make a noise or make a difference. From time to time you do need to make a noise to make a difference, but I would hope your ultimate objective is to make a difference.

The job of creating work for our people will require that we adopt a strong infrastructure-led economic growth, the kind of infrastructure that can bring an intensive growth that absorbs more people who are left out of work. It also does mean, ladies and gentlemen, that we must adopt a process where we can educate our people, because I believe that as we usher in this new era of Africans, it can’t simply be Africans who are unemployable. It has to be Africans who have the necessary skills to match the demanding growth in the economy. And technology can assist us, leapfrog what have been years if not decades of people being left behind.

The fifth value which I want to speak about is a resolute intolerance for corruption. Most governments can’t remove corruption in its entirety, but you have to fight the fight that says whether it is in the government or in the private sector you take a strong stance. Going into an election in 2019, we will argue the case to say that those who are corrupt must be locked up for years, because corruption steals from our people. It cannot be in the new struggle, when so many have died so that South Africa can experience freedom, that others feel it morally correct to steal resources that were designed to liberate more of our people. Ladies and gentlemen, in fact when more scandals are occurring, this is not the place Africa must be. You can’t when you think about doing business in Africa think to yourself of how much bribe should I pay. You should rather be coming to an economy that is free of corruption, one where there is legal certainty and that will ensure that your investment is protected through a secure policy framework. We are sending a strong message that if you are a culprit, you will be dealt with. Whether it is from the smallest case or to the grand scale of looting, the message will be quite clear: you simply won’t get away with it.

Finally, our society must be built on a capable state. We have as I lamented earlier, the corrosive nature of cadre deployment. We must build a government that attracts the best, people who are fit for purpose in government, whose loyalty is not to the party that puts them there, but in fact to the people of this country. When you look at these values, it can be tempting to believe that surely these must be obvious for everybody, but they often aren’t. It’s the monumental task that lies ahead of us. It is the emotional connection that so many people share with a liberation movement that is still their driver of votes.

But I am grateful to report to you that in 2016 many South Africans rejected this. The Democratic Alliance, the party I lead now, governs in four out of the eight metros that are in South Africa. The five great economic drivers, four out of that five, are under the administration of the DA. We now govern for sixteen million South Africans who wake up every day to a DA government that is clean, efficient and ensures that all resources are put to our people. It is not perfect but it is the job we wake up to every day. And so when many people said it could never be done, I look at those election results and draw great inspiration that when we look towards 2019, change is possible. There can be a credible government that is working for the people of South Africa. And we do need to get it right. There is simply too much at stake for us to fail. Because I fundamentally believe if South Africa and Nigeria get themselves right, the continent will get itself right. And by us I am not only talking about the citizens of South Africa.

I am speaking about those in the world who continue to fight for those values. I agreed to come and speak for BKB and you must recall from where I sit in South Africa when you get an invitation from a European company that has got letters as an acronym, you start to feel a little bit nervous. I must be honest. But we have come here because we can identify with values, the very things that are often taken for granted. These are the things in this era we must fight for and truly I invite you to be part of a journey of seeing that dispensation come into Africa and the southern parts of the region. I chair a body that coordinates opposition leaders in the SADC region (3) and many of them hold a true connection to those values.

They say we may be Tanzanians, Kenyans, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Malawians, Namibians, but we all care for and share these values where we want to see democratic change take place in our nation. We do, like you, face great challenges of migration, but we stand together to say: as people are moving into our cities, we have to answer tough questions about what we do about border control, what we do about deportations and these are difficult questions and uncomfortable questions. But these are the things we have to speak about, we have to confront in order to create prosperity in Africa. We have to build a foreign policy that reverts back to what Nelson Mandela began in South Africa, a notion upon which human rights must stand in the continent, where we don’t have dictators and people who are wanted for genocide like Omar Al Bashir arriving in South Africa and leaving freely again.


This is about us building trade. Someone asked me today: what do I want you to do? I am here to ask you to look at Africa as a place where you can invest and build trade. South Africa has got the second highest number of trade missions in the world, second only to the US. Our job is that those trade missions must be designed for the sole purpose of their strategic benefit which is attracting business into Africa. South Africa has always been a key driver of economic growth in the continent and as I said we now need to restore our place as champions for human rights in Africa. It is a struggle I will continue to fight and continue to live for. We have allowed for that responsibility to slip away from us in recent years under our current leadership, but it is a role that we must restore.

I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that change is coming in 2019, an election that could bring profound change and profound opportunity in Africa and in South Africa. We really can offer and usher in a new post-ANC era in South Africa by turning our backs on divisive politics of the past and focusing on the things that unite us as a nation, that we as a people can rise up together and work together. I can recall my parents march down the streets. My mother marched in 1976 with the generation of people pursuing equal education in South Africa. I know so many before 1994 who stood in those long lines and cast their votes, believing in the hope in a different world and a new future. They will rise up again, because the spirit of the people of Africa has never been defeated, regardless of the challenges that they face. South Africans are strong. They are united. They will rise up again to charter a new world upon which prosperity can be felt for all, where black and white can stand together.

I congratulate you again for eighteen years. I wish you strength. I want to invite you to South Africa, where you will experience good cheese and great steak, but I say this to you: stand with us at a time such as this one when values that we take for granted, are not yet experienced by many Africans. It is the struggle I continue to fight for. I hope you can be a part of that. Thank you very much. May God bless South Africa.

(1) The three-hour speech given by Nelson Mandela on 20 April 1964 from the dock of the defendant at the Rivonia Trial ended with the following statement: “During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

(2) The Gupta family has accumulated vast wealth and influence and has close relations with President Jacob Zuma. The British PR firm Bell Pottinger, which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher’s former adviser Lord Bell (who left the company last year). Recently Bell Pottinger announced that it had fired one of its partners and issued a rare apology for the work it did until April for the Guptas.

(3) The Southern African Development Coordinating Conference (SADCC), established on 1 April 1980 was the precursor of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The SADCC was transformed into the SADC on 17 August 1992 in Windhoek, Namibia where the SADC Treaty was adopted, redefining the basis of cooperation among Member States from a loose association into a legally binding arrangement.

Mmusi Maimane
Mmusi Maimane (1980) is geboren en getogen in Soweto (South Western Townships), Johannesburg. Na zijn middelbare school behaalde hij een bachelor psychologie aan de University of South Africa, een master bestuurskunde aan de University of the Witwatersrand en een master theologie aan de Bangor University in Wales. De politieke loopbaan van Maimane begon in 2010 toen hij zich voor de Democratische Alliantie (DA) kandidaat stelde voor de gemeenteraad van Johannesburg. Een jaar later werd hij de nationale woordvoeder van zijn partij en in 2013 koos zijn partij hem tot de premierskandidaat voor de provincie Gauteng. Na de algemene verkiezingen in 2014 nam Maimane zitting in het nationale parlement in Kaapstad en werd daarmee dé oppositieleider in het parlement. In 2015 werd Maimane verkozen tot partijleider van de DA en onder zijn leiderschap greep zijn partij een jaar later bij de lokale verkiezingen de macht in Kaapstad, Johannesburg, Pretoria en Port Elizabeth. Mmusi Maimane is getrouwd en heeft twee kinderen. In 2017 sprak hij de negende BKB Lezing uit.