South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance votes in first black leader

South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party elects Mmusi Maimane as its new leader, making him the first black person to head the traditionally white party.

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA (MAY 10, 2015) (ENCA) – Mmusi Maimane was elected as the new leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party on Sunday (May 10), making him the first black person to head the traditionally white party.

The party hopes the move will widen its appeal in a country deeply divided along racial lines despite the fall of apartheid more than two decades ago, with most of the black population living in poverty.

Maimane, 34, told delegates his priorities would be fighting for a fairer society with equal opportunities for all.

“We can transcend racial inequality, but this can only happen if every South African acknowledges the injustices of apartheid and can only happen if we all recognise that racial inequality of the past still remains with us today,” Maimane, who was born in the black township of Soweto in Johannesburg, said.

The DA’s leader for the last eight years, Helen Zille, 62, is stepping down after leading the party to 22 percent of the vote in the 2014 national election, its best performance. Ruling party and former liberation movement African National Congress won that poll by more than 60 percent.

Some critics accuse the DA of being “lily white” and not fully committed to transforming the country’s inequalities, including not supporting an affirmative action law that requires companies and institutions to increase the number of blacks in their ranks. One in every four South Africans is jobless.

“I simply do not agree with those who say that they don’t see colour, because if you don’t see that I am black, then you don’t see me at all,” Maimane added.

Maimane’s rise to prominence began in 2011, when he became the party’s national spokesman. In the 2014 national elections, he lost his bid to lead the provincial government of South Africa’s richest province, Gauteng, but shortly afterwards took up the position of the DA’s parliamentary leader.