While many make fun of Maimane’s Obama-quirks, he signifies an important shift in South African politics. Like Obama in 2008, he portrays a youthful image of politics. Young people can relate to him, as well as another 34 year-old, Julius Malema, leader of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which is also shaking things up in South African politics.

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South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, is a 73 year-old leading a country in which the average age is 25 years old. About 65,3% of South Africa’s population is 34 years old and younger. Maimane and Malema – the two youngest politcal leaders in South Africa – appeal to the the country’s youthful, black and rapidly urbanizing population.

For Maimane to take advantage of this, he’d have to convince his party that continuing race-based policies for black South Africans – particularly the economically marginalized youth – is neccesary for reddress, and not an impediment. The DA has often been accused of being “a party of white privilege”, offering ambigious responses to a key policy question that defines South African politics: Is race still a proxy for disadvantage?

If he manages to do so, who knows, many might turn out to vote for his party in the 2016 local government elections and the 2019 national elections. And if this happens, Maimane’s Obama-quirks would have come to good use.

After all, Obama’s most strident supporters and campaigners for his historic 2008 election were young first-time voters.

Disclosure: Before becoming a writer, Sibusiso Tshabalala was a member and provincial youth leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Free State, South Africa.

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