Last Sunday the disbelief was unbounded – and the jibes on social media merciless. Mmusi Maimane, the self-styled Obama of Soweto, had been unmasked using a car donated by disgraced financier Markus Jooste – the man who made the Wolf of Wall Street look like a puppy.
Immediately the denials began, the usual template for when things are true and can’t be rebutted – you call it a smear campaign and if you’re South African, racist.
The problem though is that the revelation followed Maimane fudging the issue of his luxury Cape Town residence; first claiming he owned it and then when that was proved to be a lie, claiming he paid rent, but without disclosing how much.
A lot has been said about Cyril Ramaphosa receiving campaign money from the discredited second tier state capturers Bosasa. At the time there was the usual ‘whataboutism?’ that bedevils our politics. But the campaign to get to the bottom of the donations – even though the number was tiny in comparison to other allegations of financial impropriety by the Watsons – eventually did pick up traction.
What was remarkable then and is even starker now is the alacrity with which Ramaphosa responded, getting to the nub of the matter and trying to get in front of it. The commentariat moaned at the time, wrung their hands, frothed at the mouth and rent their hair, but in fairness his response has almost become the gold standard through the alchemy of our times.
Nobody even worries about the EFF. Floyd Shivambu can throttle journalists and benefit from the bankrupting of an entire bank, while his commander-in-thief lives in a house apparently paid by a cigarette smuggler and racks up complaints by the dozen because their party has set the moral bar so low with their flip flop politics, ersatz fascism and eye watering double standards.
Maimane was supposed to be different – not because anybody expected that of him, but because that’s what he told everybody. He was the political leader with principle, the politician who flayed our constitutionally delinquent ex-president in parliament, he was the devoted family man who preached on Sundays. He was the moral alternative – except when his own skeletons came tumbling out and he reverted to the base Politics SA 101 defence.
Of course, he’s the victim of a smear campaign, of course there’s an agenda and of course he’s being knifed by his colleagues – that’s politics. All he had to do was answer the questions – unequivocally and honestly – and show that he’s a leader. The fact that he couldn’t speaks volumes.
All his supporters can hope for now is that there are no more scandals lurking, especially none involving sex, because if there are that will be the third and final nail in the preacher’s cross.
This week his defence to a TV station morphed to the Zuma-esque “I have broken no law, there have been no charges brought against me”. If that’s the best he’s got, it’s a bit thin. It’s also still early days.
He’s got another tough Sunday ahead of him in church tomorrow.
Originally published by the Saturday Star on 5 October 2019.