Mmusi Maimane. Picture: SOWETAN
Mmusi Maimane. Picture: SOWETAN

I RECALL first seeing Mmusi Maimane back in 2011. He was on the 7pm news outlining his plans for Johannesburg should he be elected mayor.

My first reaction was: here is the kind of politician that South Africa needs. He is young, has a plethora of qualifications, and private sector experience to match. His selling point was not the number of years he spent in prison or how many years he spent in exile. What I liked about him was that he sold Johannesburg and South Africa a future, not the past.

Though unsuccessful in winning the 2011 mayoral seat, Maimane grew the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) support in Johannesburg, from 27% in 2006 to 35%. This was not by accident, but because of the hard work put in by the young, positively ambitious and fresh politician. Through Maimane, a growing number of voters, myself included, began to identify with the DA’s vision.

Today, Maimane serves as the leader of the DA in the Johannesburg Council, deputy federal chairman, national spokesman, and most recently the DA’s candidate for premier in Gauteng.

With great success comes fierce criticism, which all politicians are accustomed to. Some of the criticism is valid, and some of it just ridiculous. Before joining the Maimane campaign team, I was critical of the campaign as an outsider. Even as an insider, I continue to have my criticisms, which I express in campaign meetings.

Most of the criticism has been that the campaign is Obama-like, which was one of the first things I said to Maimane upon joining his team. His response was "if that’s the strongest criticism of the campaign, then perhaps we are doing a good job."

The Maimane campaign is a sleek and modern political campaign, introducing some of the latest techniques in paid advertising, digital strategy and ground campaigning. More than that, it is grounded in a compelling offer for Gauteng.

It is an offer that would see entrepreneurs lead job creation in Gauteng — supported by resource centres, fair tender processes and office space in under-used government buildings.

It is an offer that would see 220,000 families without title deeds for their state-subsidised homes gain ownership, capital and equity. It is an offer of a referendum on job-killing e-tolls and the cutting of the R6bn lost to corruption annually in Gauteng through opening tender committees and a new ministerial handbook.

And it is an offer to bridge the study-work divide for so many unemployed young people in Gauteng through scaling up internship and apprenticeship opportunities.

Of course not everyone shares these views. We would expect the African National Congress (ANC) to be critical of the campaign. After all, it is costing them votes in their heartland.

Funny enough, the most vociferous critic has not been the ANC. And it’s not the Economic Freedom Fighters either. It’s DA staffer-turned columnist Gareth van Onselen.

Since October last year, Van Onselen has devoted no less than eight articles in BDlive to attacking Maimaine’s character. These cheap, ad hominem attacks, must be mystifying to outside observers. Indeed, many have wondered on social media: what could Maimane have possibly done to upset Van Onselen?

I initially dismissed Van Onselen’s columns as the writings of a bitter and jealous man who saw in Maimane what he wanted to be, but could never be. But I could no longer ignore Van Onselen’s Maimane obsession when I read his latest offering. It would be unfair for me to bore you with the contents of Van Onselen’s drivel, but I will touch on a few matters.

We can assume that Van Onselen’s interaction with Maimane’s campaign is only through social media, when he says, "much of the DA’s campaign has been social media based …".

To set the record straight, social media is but a single component of a multidimensional and sophisticated campaign, which on most days, starts at six in the morning, at various transport hubs, and ends in the late evening with a town hall meeting, and visits to several communities during the day. This happens seven days a week, and has been the nature of a campaign since September last year, which covered over 30,000km. This gruelling campaign schedule makes Maimane one of the hardest working politicians in South Africa.

Yes, Maimane was "chosen" (not elected) to be the DA’s national spokesman, as is the practice of appointing the national spokesperson in the DA and other political parties. And as Van Onselen correctly (surprise!) points out, Maimane was elected as the DA's deputy federal chairman, affirming the leadership he possesses, and the confidence that the party’s members have in him.

It is no secret that a handful of underperforming DA Johannesburg councillors, who were facing disciplinary hearings, were co-opted through patronage, by the ANC. This does not reflect on Maimane and his leadership, but is a reflection of those who fled and who could be bought with the promise of government jobs and other material benefits.

Van Onselen dedicates a paragraph to Maimane’s refusal to do interviews about "bad news". What Van Onselen omits to write is that these interview requests came from him. The campaign team took a decision a long time ago that it will respond to queries from all proper journalists. What we won’t do is legitimise Van Onselen’s one-sided, one-man crusade against Maimane.

It is certainly ironic that the same guy who abuses his column space to settle old scores has the gall to call Maimane out on "cowardice". Maimane has stood up and fought for what he believes in, convincing many others, like myself, to make a shift towards the DA. He has been labelled by his opponents as a "sell-out" and he has been called a coconut. But he keeps on going.

During the recent DA march to Luthuli House, the ANC saw fit to hurl petrol bombs, rocks and other projectiles. Maimane refused to be escorted to safety by security because, in his own words, "our members cannot be left behind." From the front, he led over 6,000 DA members back to safety.

How much courage does it take, by contrast, to sit in a darkened room spewing out vitriol? What kind of man derives pleasure from taking other men down? Just who is the real hollow man in this equation?

It is unfortunate that BDlive has allowed itself to be complicit in Van Onselen’s vindictive crusade against Maimane. No politician is perfect. And every public figure deserves scrutiny. But it is strange that BDlive would devote so much space to criticism of one individual.

I guess this is the problem when a spurned spin-doctor is given his own column. He will invariably use it to continue pushing the same factional agenda (that, in this case, resulted in his resignation from the DA) in the media.

Who is Mmusi Maimane? He is the kind of leader that Gauteng and South Africa has been asking for. He is leading and shaping a new brand of South African politics, which our country so desperately needs. Making a difference is so much more worthwhile than making a noise.