Polarising stance on Israel vs Hamas is hypocritical, we remain committed to Western partnerships – Mmusi Maimane

The leader of Build One South Africa (BOSA), Mmusi Maimane, recently concluded his visit to the United States, where he engaged in discussions with senators, and esteemed institutions such as MIT and Harvard, and connected with South African expatriates in Boston. In an interview with BizNews, Maimane emphasised the US’s critical role as a trade partner for South Africa. He stated that his visit aimed to address the sustainability of this partnership with the US and the broader West, as the country approaches a pivotal election. Maimane conveyed the message that the views narrowly held by the ANC in terms of its position on Russia are not the view of all South Africans and certainly not the view taken by the South African Parliament. He said that South Africa’s foreign policy should be taken back to what Nelson Mandela stood for. On the ANC’s decision to take Israel to the International Court of Justice, the BOSA leader says it polarised the issue and is not helpful in finding a quick resolution. He accused the ANC of hypocrisy in taking on this issue while building relationships with dictators who do not care for human rights. Maimane warned that if the ANC government continues to be seen as kowtowing to dictators, it could make the flow of capital into South Africa difficult. He said that a new government and a new generation of leaders who think in the interest of South Africa will fight to protect human rights and continue its partnership with the West while creating a strong Africa. He also assured his US audience that the capability of the state can be restored in South Africa. Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:33 – Why he is in the States
  • 02:19 – Current government’s animosity to the West
  • 04:16 – How his message is being received
  • 05:29 – Raising funds while there
  • 05:52 – What cities he is visiting
  • 06:30 – America’s election and South Africa’s election
  • 09:08 – The bigger picture?
    11:56 – The ICJ decision on Israel
  • 13:27 – Politics in SA
  • 15:05 – Negotiations with the Multi-Party Charter
  • 15:48 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview


US remains crucial partner for South African trade

Firstly, I think the US is a very significant partner for South African trade. I certainly believe without a shadow of a doubt that the history that South Africa and certainly a city like Boston share requires that continuous relationships be upheld. It’s great not only to meet South Africans in Boston but also to be in the heartbeat of great universities like Harvard and MIT in fostering relations between South Africa. That is part of the reason for being here is also being able to say, how do we, heading towards a very crucial election in South Africa ensure that those partnerships are continued? Sometimes I think Americans can hear a story about South Africa that says, forget about it, it’s going one way and it’s not a good way, or they hear negative stories about farm murders. I’m here to tell a story that says South Africa is still committed to a partnership with the broader West. We want to continue trade, and I want to ensure that we’re part of a generation of South Africans who are much more inclusive in our approach. 

South Africa’s stance on Israel is polarising the issue and not helpful in finding a quick resolution to the conflict

I think that we need to remind ourselves that like many people in the world, we still all stand for a two-state solution. We still hold the absolute sense that it’s going to be important that we have a ceasefire in the Middle East. It’s going to be important that we come back to a negotiated settlement that achieves that two-state solution. I think that’s a common view amongst many right-thinking people in the world. To polarise it in that way has not helped to find a quick resolution. Also, there is a degree of hypocrisy that the ANC government is taking on this issue, given that they’ve built relationships with dictators and people who do not care for human rights, who do not, in many ways, protect people, whether it’s former leaders in Venezuela or many other dictators in Africa who have killed their people. If we’re going to be consistent on principle, we need to be consistent all the time and not be selective about which cases we choose.

SA government’s views on Russia do not represent South Africans or SA Parliament 

Part of why I’m here is to also say that that may be the views held narrowly by the ANC, certainly in their positioning on Russia and others,, but it is not the view that is reflective of all South Africans and certainly not the position that’s taken by the South African Parliament. What is clear is the fact that South Africa’s diplomatic relations need to be restored to what Nelson Mandela stood for, which is human rights and trade. When you look at the nature of our relations with the US, AGOA still plays a very significant role in South Africa and so from a trade relations perspective, it’s still crucial. South Africa and the U.S. share a common language in some ways and we’ve got to ensure that we continue to partner together in fighting human rights. 

Kowtowing to dictators could stem the flow of capital into the country

If South Africa were to lose its partnership with AGOA, it would have profound consequences on the employability of South Africans and South Africa’s ability to create more jobs. If South Africa continues to be seen from a foreign policy point of view, kowtowing to people who are dictators and are acting in undemocratic ways, it makes the flow of capital into South Africa very difficult from an investment point of view. These issues, as much as they are geopolitical, will have net consequences for us. 

Sometimes, I think we are exceptional in South Africa, but also at the same time, we need to remind ourselves that the challenges we face are not unique to us. They are also parts of the world that are dealing with some of these challenges and in other parts have found solutions for them. We’ve got to be able to not only learn from those but be able to engage in dialogue about how we fix these issues.

Read more: Maimane: Hope is mushrooming – SA’s youth will vote for political change in 2024. ANC is done.

The capability of the state in South Africa can be restored

I’m also here to connect with a very good friend of mine, Professor Ricardo Hausman [of Harvard University] who wrote a report recently about the state of where South Africa is at. One of the things that he highlights is that the capability of the state has been destroyed in South Africa. I wanted to make sure that we meet and come here to say, we can restore that state capability because that holds part of the key to South Africa’s prosperity going forward. So, it’s about fixing the politics, fixing the state. The reason I’m here is to say, don’t presume that the positions that are being emitted by the current government are the permanent positions that will carry South Africa through. I certainly think that a new government and a new generation of leaders will think in the interest of South Africa, will fight to protect human rights and continue the partnership not only with the West but creating a strong Africa and how it participates in geopolitical conversations. 

Reception of message overwhelmingly positive

As a South African, it has been a valuable experience to re-establish connections with Mandela’s legacy, not just in Boston but also in this state. Moreover, engaging with African Americans who are actively addressing issues like inequality in their communities, has been enlightening and mutually beneficial.

The American audience understands the dynamics of their political landscape, recognising that the ANC’s views may not necessarily represent the broader sentiments of the South African population. There is a keen awareness that, despite the upcoming crucial election in South Africa, the views of the ANC do not resonate with the entirety of the nation. This understanding contributes to the positive reception of the message, emphasising the potential for new leaders to steer South Africa toward a different and better future.

Fundraising for BOSA?

I was not primarily focused on fundraising during my visit. Instead, I’m engaging with South Africans here in various ways, encouraging contributions globally. While I’ve met diverse individuals in Boston, our main objective is to establish partnerships for Build One South Africa (BOSA). I began in Washington, where I held meetings and discussions with key think tanks. It’s been two days in each city—Washington and Boston

Read more: Terrence Corrigan on Maimane’s BOSA: Giving power back to the people

Lessons from U.S election: Shying Away from Immigration Debate Opens Door for Populists

As I observe the intense political battle in the United States between Democrats and Republicans, particularly the potential Trump versus Biden showdown, I recognise the crucial lessons for South Africa’s upcoming election. President Clinton once said it so wisely when he said, elections are really a referendum about the future. The future of the US is in many ways on the ballot in the U.S. election. Even though there’s been a history of democratic institutions here, there is  fragility, if you reflect on events on January 6th and many others, reflect on how quickly that can easily turn. So, when I reflect on the elections here, one of the key lessons that we’ve got to take away is as political leaders, we need to swim into difficult discussions, but also centrist people need to speak to emotive issues that voters feel. If voters have concerns about immigration, it’s no use leaders shying away from them. It opens doors for populists to come through.

There’s a genuine global issue of inequality where many citizens are feeling left out of the broader global prosperity. We’ve got to talk about inclusion and how we ensure that happens because if sensible people do not talk about those things, it makes it possible for populists to come in and offer fairly simplistic solutions to complicated issues, raising people’s emotions, ending up being elected and then we end up with governments that are not working.

It’s going to be important in South Africa. We have an immigration problem. We have an inequality problem. You can’t just leave it out to extremists, whether it’s the EFF or anyone else. You’ve got to come in yourself in leadership and say, what is your view, your views on immigration and how can we make sure that stays on the ballot for people to vote for a government that protects human rights, fights against dictators, ensures that there’s proper immigration laws, but also talk about economic issues and how more and more people can be included in a prosperous South Africa

BOSA is on a growth path, wants to be the anchor tenant in a coalition government 

We’re excited about our growth trajectory, and I want to emphasise that our party is unique on the ballot. We don’t identify as a black, white, Indian, coloured, or religious party. Instead, we’re contesting for ideas and advocating for direct elections. Our success is evident in the diversity of our list, spanning all nine provinces.

As we approach the upcoming election, I’m confident that we’ll make a significant impact in building the centre of South African politics. Our goal is to become the anchor tenant in a coalition government post-election. South Africans, like Ayanda Allie (formerly the spokesperson for Fakile Mbulula), who is joining us, represent a diverse range of talents, from media and television to law and human rights activism. We believe that politics should include the best talent from across the country to truly represent the people. Building the centre, a home for voters in the middle; coalitions can follow post-election 

We haven’t closed the door on negotiations with the Multi-Party Charter, but even if the Multi-Party Charter achieves all that it wants to achieve, it still does not get over 50%. All of the voters who are sitting in the middle need a home that they can give expression to the vote for. We believe we are that home and we can speak to the Multi-Party Charter post the elections. That’s still an option that is available and in fact, will be an important option to consider. But if you want to try and get 51%, we have to put as many vehicles as possible on the ballot, a sufficient number so that voters have a place where they can cast their votes and then we can create a coalition that brings change post the elections.

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