‘Mmusi Maimane Prophet or Puppet’ is an invaluable unauthorized biography of Maimane written by one of South Africa’s seasoned political journalists, S’thembiso Msomi. Mmusi Maimane was elected as the first black leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) on 10th May 2015. The DA is a South African political party and the official opposition to the governing African National Congress (ANC).
The title of the book is a play on Maimane’s dual roles as a lay preacher hence ‘Prophet’, and as a leader of a previously largely ‘white’ party, hence the ‘Puppet.’ The DA political enemies have charged that Maimane is nothing but a ‘rent a black’ puppet in the party.
The book ‘Mmusi Maimane Prophet or Puppet’ is both a finery scholarly work and a fascinating story of a man who succeeded the maverick former DA leader Helen Zille. It is part biography (of Maimane) and part contemporary history of DA’s metamorphosis from an exclusive club of classical liberals into a ‘broad church’ that appeals to the non-traditional support base of the party, mainly the black constituency. By tracing the path of Maimane’s life, it sheds new light into the making both of the man and the DA’s political transformation from a ‘white’ political party to one whose new leader shared similar experiences to those of a majority of voters. As the mantra goes, Maimane seeks to build the DA into an oasis of Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity for All. The book seeks to and succeeds in bringing forth the early successes of Maimane in his quest to repackage the opposition party as a party for all committed to a shared future with the majority of South Africans.
Author, Msomi spent several months following his subject in his day-to-day political engagements with a variety of constituencies. In Msomi’s attempt to bring a full picture of the first black leader of the DA, he attempted to connect the dots of Maimane’s life – speaking to his childhood friends, acquaintances, teachers and family members. He spent a considerable amount of time with the man who recruited Maimane into the DA. We learn that it took the DA Member of Parliament Ian Ollis three years to finally win Maimane over to the ‘Blue machine’.
Msomi also navigated a mountain of documentary evidence such as newspaper clippings, Maimane’s speeches and broadcast clips to bring to us a full bodied picture of Maimane. In his analyses of Maimane’s speeches, Msomi could discern a man at ease with himself. It becomes clear that Maimane is affable, warm and a leading orator amongst South Africa’s politicians.
‘Mmusi Maimane Prophet or Puppet’ retraces the steps of Maimane from his birth in Dobsonville, a township in greater Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa to his meteoric rise from obscurity to head one of the fastest growing opposition party in South Africa. It touches on how he grappled with the idea of joining a liberal political party considering that he had always identified himself with the ANC. Msomi brings to life the voices and places that made Maimane in a manner devoid of puffery. Msomi is critical, yet empathetic to his main character (Maimane) whom he believes to be a rising political star.
At the macro-level, ‘Mmusi Maimane Prophet or Puppet’ is a critic of the South African brand of liberalism. At the micro-level, it’s a study of the evolution of the DA political strategy since Maimane took over the reins. It does well in providing a balanced analysis of the DA’s political fortunes; its ideological confusion and growth strategy. However, it lacks Maimane’s exclusive voice as it seems the author was unable to have an in-depth interview with him.
The result of Msomi’s labour is a rich contemporary look into the present state of the DA, its prospects and weakness in this fast-paced contemporary politics of our country. The theme of whether Maimane is a puppet is well interrogated but not the ‘Prophet’ part of the equation. Msomi argues that Maimane might be a prisoner to the DA’s political past, hence the question, Prophet or Puppet?