The risk they took, what he teases her about and one thing in life to be crystal clear about. Plus watch them laughing big time on the couch! With no political agenda, Thislife Online presents some jigsaw pieces that make up the shared life of NATALIE and MMUSI MAIMANE. Watch the video, read the interview
This interview was first published by Thislife Online magazine in March 2018
‘Don’t get married, your children will be criticised at school,’ the Maimanes were told, but they opted to create their own norms | Photo: Lauren Rautenbach
National leader of South Africa’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, since 2015, Mmusi Maimane (37) grew up in Dobsonville, Soweto. He was the eldest of four and his mother worked in a pharmaceutical company, his father in a lock factory. He has three degrees and speaks eight languages. Mmusi worked in public administration before going into politics and his name is Tswana for ‘ruler’. Middle child Natalie (33) was born in Roodepoort, daughter of an engineer father and a teacher mother who latterly balanced the books in her brother’s panel beating business. Natalie worked as a teacher before taking on the full-time mothering of their daughter ‘KG’ Kgalaletso (7), and son Daniel (5)
JOIN US IN THE ROOM WITH THE MAIMANES RIGHT HERE
Mmusi: ‘I had an amazing childhood in Soweto that I’m grateful for. It was a very vibrant place where you were part of a community committed to a freedom project that engulfed everybody. You might not have felt interested in politics, but politics was interested in you. My mother was an unbelievable individual. She was an Eastern Cape woman who’d migrated to Johannesburg looking for work, and knew what suffering looked like. We always had people staying in our home and she taught me to share the little she had with people who had less. Relationships were key for Dad, and it would take us an hour to walk the 3km to church as he’d stop to talk to everyone. We both loved music and football, which bound us together even though he was a better player than me. I appreciated the non-racialism of the Catholic church in Soweto where I went to school; the only other white people we’d see were apartheid soldiers patrolling. But in those priests, I met people who were genuinely compassionate.
Natalie: I had a ‘normal’ childhood (if that exists). It was happy and my parents were wonderful. Values were key in our home.
Natalie: We don’t remember meeting! We both belonged to different churches which merged when I was about 15, and eventually we became very close friends. I could talk to Mmusi about anything and trust him. Even when he was young, he had wisdom and humour. Our parents were from different sides of the apartheid planet, but they’d taught us to accept others. When I was 20, I came back from a teaching conference, we met for lunch and I felt something was different between us. It’s a cliché, but we were aware we risked losing a very solid friendship, and that was big. But after a hiccup of a first date when Mmusi took me to an odd wedding that put me off marriage, we went ahead and were engaged after six months. I was 21 when we married. Some of my uncles and aunts didn’t think this was a great idea at all, so we had quite a difficult engagement period. But the support of our church softened the impact.
Mmusi: She blew me away with her sense of love for others and spirit of generosity, and I used to think ‘This is the kind of girl I want to be with’. We knew it would offend some people, so it had to be worth the gamble. Since then we’ve gone through different phases and jobs: Natalie didn’t marry a politician, and I didn’t marry a mother – but what has remained constant is what we value and what we believe we’re here for.
In sync | Photo: Lauren Rautenbach
The mixed couple label?
Natalie: Any relationship is multicultural. Very seldom are two families that similar, so in a way we’re no different. If you can work out your values as a couple and later as a family, they’ll keep you together.
Mmusi: My advice to a mixed race couple is the same as to any other: don’t drink the Kool-aid, by which I mean don’t give into peer pressure and think you’re abnormal. I can recall someone saying,’Your kids are going to be criticised at school because they’re so different.’ People have an opinion about everything, and what the norm is. If you think everyone else is right, you won’t have the basis for a relationship. Do your own normal.
Parenting joys and woes?
Mmusi: Going out to eat waffles with KG, playing football with Daniel. Parenting in public is my biggest challenge. If my son does something bad at a school function, everyone looks at me as if to say, ‘How are you going to deal with this?’ I also remember being asked for a selfie at 10pm while carrying a sleeping KG through an airport. I gave her to someone to hold while the photo was taken, but afterwards I thought, ‘I don’t want to hand over my child again’.
‘Natalie didn’t marry a politician, and I didn’t marry a mother, but what we value has remained constant,’ says Mmusi | Photo: Lauren Rautenbach
Hopes for your children?
Mmusi: That they will walk with God and serve others. That’s all. I’d be grateful for that.
Natalie: That they won’t come through childhood feeling hard done by because their parents are serving South Africa. I hope they’ll want to do the same.
What do you tease each other about?
Mmusi: Natalie’s cooking! It’s the reason I say at every meal: ‘Dear God, please do make me grateful for this food!’
Natalie: [long laugh] I’m just not inspired. I think it’s the reason Musi hasn’t picked up weight since we got married!
Natalie: Mmusi often leaves his clothes on the floor. I call it his ‘walk-on closet’. He says he can see his clothes better.
Mmusi: Actually, I can’t think of one Natalie has.
Natalie: Ridiculous TV that my friends can’t believe I watch.
Mmusi: Gym training about four times a week. A good whisky.
Natalie: He’s so much bigger than whatever’s going on. I draw a lot of strength from that. I believe you can accomplish so much more with His grace.
Mmusi: I am just so aware of His footprint in my life, and that of South Africa. We’ve just gone through a profound political change. If the same change had taken place in Egypt, in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, we would be describing a whole lot of bloodshed today. I accept that some would question how can God be ‘selective’, but in fact I believe I’ve seen His faithfulness in all circumstances: good and bad.
Another deep thing?
Mmusi: Be absolutely crystal clear about what you exist to do in this world, and work from there.
Mmusi: We’re watching a dodgy series called Casual!