Democracy in South Africa
South African Opposition Elects “Obama of Soweto” As Leader

Since the end of apartheid, one party, the African National Congress, has won every national election in South Africa. This makes sense—who doesn’t love a liberator?—and yet, observers both in and out of sub-Saharan Africa’s regional powerhouse, have worried that this dynamic encourages corruption and stultifies the democratic process. Two of the three Presidents since Mandela have faced credible allegations of corruption, in one case serious enough to bring about resignation, and accusations of incompetence have also been rife.

Part of the challenge is that the opposition has been fragmented, and the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has long been seen as a “white people’s party”, despite a history of opposing apartheid. (The DA was the respectable face of largely non-Boer, white South African opposition to the regime; however, because blacks were banned from voting, it was perforce white.) That may be changing. In recent elections the DA has grown from 12.4 to 22.2%. Now it has elected its first black leader—and he’s a bit of a rock star, to boot. As Voice of America reports:

Mmusi Maimane takes over from Helen Zille, who has been at the helm of the party for eight years.

At 34 years of age, the charismatic politician known for his sharp oratory skills and slick campaigns is often dubbed the “Obama of Soweto.” […]

Before getting into politics, the gangly, eloquent leader – included in GQ magazine’s 2014 list of best-dressed men – lectured at a business school in Johannesburg.  A devout Christian, he is a preacher at the charismatic Discovery Church in Randburg.

Maimane broke into international news when he accused President Zuma of being a “thief” in a Parliamentary debate in March. (The charge is not without foundation.) The BBC adds that Maimane kept the spotlight on corruption during his victory speech, declaring, “Make no mistake Mr President, you will have your day in court.”

The development of a true two-party system in South Africa would be one of the strongest, positive, long-term signs for South Africa. And as that nation is already the most stable, democratic, and economically developed major power on the continent, it’s an vital regional consideration that South Africa continues to grow. As an expert quoted by VOA put it, the election of Maimane is a “necessary but not sufficient condition” for the DA to take that leap. Sufficient or not, it’s big news—and should make politics in the rainbow nation more fun to watch for the foreseeable future.

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