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Speech at awardceremony for Mmusi Maimane

12 sep 2017
Speech at awardceremony for mmusi maimane

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is the strongest oppositionparty of South Africa. Mmusi Maimane is its leader. The Dutch leadership-academy Avicenna awarded him with the leadership award. Boris van der Ham spoke during this event.


Ladies and gentleman

It’s a great honour to speak here in front of you all. But especially in front of you, Mr. Maimane and Mrs Maimane

You both have been in The Netherlands for a few days. You have seen a lot of Amsterdam. You visited The Amsterdam Arena, and watched a soccer game of Ajax, the club that is in a partnership with a soccer club in South Africa. We all saw you appearing in several newspapers and on Television. Yesterday you met the Dutch Prime-Minister and visited the Dutch Parliament. And now you are here.

You are the party leader of Democratic Alliance (DA) in South Africa. And that party is a member of the International Liberal umbrella-organization: Liberal International. I am currently active in that organization and at the end of October I will visit, with many other Liberals, a meeting of Liberal International, hosted by you, in Johannesburg. I am really looking forward to visit South Africa and to meet other members of DA.

I think that the fact that we are political related is the main reason that I have been asked to deliver an introduction to you, and give a little bit of context about South-Africa and The Netherlands. Another reason is that I am working together with Avicenna on their leadership program and theatre. I actually wrote a book about it. The title of this book is based on a very essential rule in theatre: ‘You Can’t Play the King, Other Play You The King’. This means: If you want to be the leader, you are depending on others if you are seen as King. So never take power for granted. That’s essential in theatre, but also in politics. We see this going wrong in South-African politics.

Before I will come to that I want to say something about the era we both grew up in.

You were born on 6 June 1980 in Krugersdorp. You grew up in Soweto, and attended Allen Glen High School. At that time Apartheid was part of daily life.

I was born in 1973 in Amsterdam, and grew up in the country side. I did not experience a war, did not feel hungry, or experienced such major injustice as apartheid.  But my generation saw it on tv.

On school, we sang along with the youth program ‘Children for Children’ (Kinderen voor Kinderen) that often tried to make songs about injustices in the world. About the environment, but also about apartheid. We wanted Nelson Mandela to be freed from jail. We thought Winnie Mandela was a great woman. We also sang along with American popstars when they sang "We are The World", when they addressed the food-crisis in other parts of Africa. It was a child way to show solidarity.

Closer than Africa, was Eastern Europe. Europe was divided between a free and a communist part. The Cold War. Of course, we supported people who were against those evil communists. We cheered for Lech Walesa, the leader of the workers union in Poland. He was hero.

The Cold War was not a real war, but as a child I really felt afraid of what could happen. In the evening, I regularly woke up when the planes were flying above our house. Quite logical: We lived near the Amsterdam Airport. But I was afraid that it was a Russian rocket with atomic bombs. Together with my father, I demonstrated at the Museumplein in Amsterdam in the early eighties against atomic bombs.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 this fear ended. East Germany was reunited with West German. The world changed. Other Eestern-European countries followed. Lech Walesa even became the president of Poland.

That also materialized at school. At the beginning of the next school year, the teacher who taught us economics, said that our books that we just bought were outdated. A number of chapters were devoted to the economic structure of communist East Germany and Czechoslovakia.  "Grab your pen.”, he said, “For this one time you can scratch your book. " Some of my classmates broke the pages with a graceful gesture.

During that time, I visited Prague in then Czechoslovakia. I went to a cinema to see a rerun of the American film "The Hunt for The Red October”. The film was about a Soviet submarine captain (played by Sean Connery) who fled to the Americans. At the end of the film, the Russian submarine was blown up. At the last scene, a loud applause rose in the cinema.. Boys and girls of my age were standing on the chairs, and laughed at the Russians with triumph, almost aggressive. I applauded with them. Although I did not share their experiences with suppression by communism, I had experienced its echo.

And then one other thing happened:

President De Klerk released the famous anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela on February 11, 1990.

During the life broadcasting of this on Dutch television, a lot of people who were for years so sympathetic with the struggle against apartheid were sitting in tears in front of the television.

A wonder!

Things can really be changed. Things can be changed in a good direction. In the rightful direction.

In 1994, general elections were held for all races, leading to a regime of the African National Congress (ANC), first led by Mandela, later under Thabo Mbeki. Laws were changed. The new constitution was one of the most modern one in the world.  In 1994, Nelson Mandela also named Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

From a distance, while watching TV, I was impressed. And a lot of people were impressed. What a wisdom, what a leadership.

All these changes in the world were almost fairy-tale like. The world was able to live happily ever after. It was a euphoric feeling that lasted for a while. Everything would be different now. A grand optimism. Now we could work on tackling poverty, we could make a start to clean up the environment. The world that we hoped for, while singing "We are The World", was accessible.

But the world is not a fairy-tale.

In Europa the feeling of hope, faded quickly when the civil war broke out in former Yugoslavia and when Russia attacked Chechnya. While protest against the communists in Eastern Europa was successful, it failed in China; Lots of young people were killed. The new president of Poland, the once cheered Lech Walesa, turned out to be a rather nasty politician himself. The problems in the Middle East were still there. New dangers came to the surface: Religious extremism.

And the new South-Africa was having its problems too. Yes, the laws changed, but It was still a country with huge opposites between poor and rich. The only difference was that some blacks also joined the upper layer. But the unemployment was immense. In 1995, when the 'rainbow nation' made the transition to multiracial democracy, 16 percent of the labour force was unemployed. And still many south-African young people are poor, and unemployment. Also, the country grew to have the highest percentage of HIV infections in the world.

At the same time the leadership of the ANC changed too. Winnie Mandela was criticized. Other ANC politicians were getting arrogant. They took their power for granted.  They Black nouveaux riches were often tied with the ANC. It was always clear if this money was earned in an honest way, or partly by corruption or unfair privileges. The former progressive warriors were called not yuppies but "yummies": which means "young upward mobile Marxists."

After the stable leadership of Mandela and president Mbeki, president Zuma became leader of the ANC and South Africa. He has faced significant legal challenges. For example: He upgraded his own house, payed by the state, and the Constitutional Court said Zuma had failed to uphold the country's constitution, resulting in calls for his resignation. Time and time again Zuma got away with this, because of support by his own party, that still dominates South African politics.

The party that we cheered for when they managed to take over South Africa, establishing a democracy, is making a travesty of democracy. The fairly tail has been derailed

Ladies and gentlemen.

Leadership is not only about establish something, but also to maintain it, to refresh it, to criticize it, to allow transparency, to amend it to the needs of a new era. If we look at south Africa now, it’s clear it needs new, better leadership.

Is Mmusi Maimane the person to bring that new leadership?

Well, he is the leader of the biggest Opposition in the National Assembly of South Africa.  His DA has been governing in the Western Cape, one of South Africa's nine provinces, since the 2009 general election. It is the only party to have increased its share of the vote in every national election held since 1994. The party draws its support from Afrikaans and English-speaking people, but also a growing numbers of black voters.  Since 2016, the DA also governs (some in coalition) in several of South Africa's major metropolitan municipalities, like Johannesburg.

Is Mmusi Maimane the person to bring new leadership?

It might be.

He has the skills to lead, to get crowds enthusiastic. He is the new star of South African politics.

From the moment that Dutch colonists set foot on South Africa soil, we have been very interested in your county. Dutch people have played a part in South Africa’s darkest periods. We are ashamed that apartheid is a Dutch word. But a lot of people in the Netherlands did campaign for a democratic and equal south Africa too.  And today, a lot of people are interested in the future of your beautiful, but complicated country.

I think democracy is at its best if the powers that be are challenged. And when power can be handed over in a peacefully transition to other politicians, is voters want polities to change.

But change have to be made by brave women and men in person. It’s up to politicians to show the guts to seek for this position. And to challenge all kind of opposition against their views.

And you, Mr. Mmusi Maimane, you have got that guts.

I think we will not pay you credit by just worshiping you. I think you want to say that in a democracy we always have to be critical to power. And that for South Africa its necessary that the country is liberated from its liberators. If that is possible in the future, that we can say South Africa is a real democracy.

The fact that you are trying to do this, shows that you are a true leader. Not a new prince, stepping out of a fairy tale-booklet. Not someone without mistakes. Not a leader we can’t criticize. But a leader that reminds us that in a democracy its fundamental that power always should be criticized, and never taken for granted.

And if you will win more election, and will get into power the leadership award that you will get today, will remind you of that.

Thank you!