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What’s wrong with Mmusi Maimane?

Meryl Streep in the movie Doubt plays the role of a nun, Sister Aloysius Beauvier. The character is a subversive antagonist that casts doubt on articles of faith yet is ambivalent about what is the truth. The lingering feeling of doubt that Sister Aloysius conjures is perhaps equalled by the doubt I feel about a similarly named DA politician, Mmusi Aloysias Maimane. Brother Aloysias is a wishful protagonist that pleads for faith yet I am ambivalent about his truth and give him doubt. The calibre of actor that is Streep makes me believe her equivocation; yet Maimane for all his acting makes me doubt his truth.

First article of doubt is that in public debates Maimane doesn’t tackle pertinent issues head on. In an eNCA debate against Paul Mashatile, Maimane was asked whether Gauteng would adopt the refugee language spewed by the Western Cape DA. He went on to give an answer about border control. This left me wondering if he intends to erect border control points around Gauteng. Subsequently he was asked about lack of black representivity on the DA electoral lists. His answer was to give a definition of diversity as being more than about race. He misses the pith of the prickly issue. The issue is the systemic and systematic historical exclusion of blacks and its present-day perpetuation. Given his answers on race I doubt he understands this is SA and not Sweden.

Second article of doubt is that the messaging of Maimane has become trapped in the DA polling echo chamber. So if iANC ayisafani (the ANC is no longer the same) then nina ningenaphi lapho? (What does it have to do with you?) Instead of telling us about DA programmes we are subjected to negative campaigning against the ANC. Yes Bill Clinton relying on king of negative campaigning Dick Morris, as chief political strategist whenever his campaigns floundered, shows that this tactic works. But disapproval of the ANC does not automatically lead to approval of the DA. Neither does not voting for the ANC automatically lead to voting for the DA.

To understand limits of negative campaigning, let us look at a negative voting game like Survivor or even UN vetoes. In Survivor you vote to eliminate the person you disapprove of — likewise with the veto. But an election is not like Survivor but more like Survivor with replacement. That is, for each player you vote out another takes their place. Now if the replacement player is more odious than the original tribe member it becomes rational to keep the original tribe member. You say fine but surely people would gain more from replacing ANC with DA.

In essence what you would be saying is, how can it be rational to keep ANC given DA alternative. Well you have to realise that people have different modes of thinking. Two of particular interest here, are gain-seeking (profit maximisation) and loss-aversion (loss minimisation) modes. Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow writes that there is a psychological asymmetry between loss-aversion and gain-seeking. Loss-aversion is more psychologically pronounced and hence people avoid losses more.

So if an ANC supporter is judging the DA from a loss-aversion mode it might matter little what they might gain from the DA given what they could possibly lose. This is why a gain-seeking DA supporter might think a loss-averse ANC supporter is irrational because for a DA gain-seeker there is more to gain from DA, while a loss-averse ANC supporter thinks there is more to lose in DA. These modes are dynamic and target specific. This specificity manifests for example in that many DA supporters, in my view, are loss-averse towards EFF. Thus I ask again: if iANC ayisafani (the ANC is no longer the same) then nina ningenaphi lapho? (What does it have to do with you?)

Third article of doubt is inspired by the Frantz Fanon quote about each generation and its mission. The mission of Maimane and cohort is to infuse SA centre-right politics with the lived, black experience. It is not their role to mirror some caricature experience based on what some head of research once read in an anthropology course. Nor what some head of polling re-inforces with the type of polling questions they design. Blackness is not only a lens, it is a lived experience, a reality for a large demographic.

Fourth article of doubt is that Maimane eschews black cultural symbols. Obama often talks of Mad Men, House of Cards etc. Obama realises that no amount of money can buy you people feeling that you understand them and are one of them. So Obama makes cultural references not merely to seem erudite but to communicate insider knowledge to his electorate. Julius Malema seems to understand this more than most in SA. He often makes references to Generations, Kalawa Jazmee etc. Maimane unfortunately seems to have picked up only superfluous stylistic mannerisms from Obama.

Fifth article of doubt is not appreciating that the media is weary of Obama. There would be no President Obama had the media not rallied to his cause. Obama did the impossible by making the media suspend scepticism and believe in rhetoric. But his incessant droning campaigns have broken the hearts of many in the media. Maimane does not appreciate that every time he evokes Obama he is busy re-traumatising the typewriter class, which he needs.

Sixth article is his messaging does not seem to get the born-free. The DA conflates model C/private school educated with born-free. Children born and educated in informal settlements are also post-1994. Most informal settlements are a democracy phenomenon; apartheid did not brook shack dwellers.

Given ubiquity of informal settlements in Gauteng and Maimane’s focus, you would think Nkandla is an informal settlement in Gauteng. But Abahlali and all shack dwellers, have faith, for Brother Aloysias has arrived.

Twitter: @melomagolego