History as SA's main opposition elects first black leader

Mmusi Maimane is positioning the DA to uphold the values of Nelson Mandela.

Mmusi Maimane, the newly elected leader of South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance. Picture: AFP.

PORT ELIZABETH - In what's seen as a watershed moment for the Democratic Alliance (DA) and possibly a defining moment for South African politics,

Outgoing #DA leader #HelenZille jokingly told the #DACongress it'll be the last time #SA will have to watch her dance. #Zille #ZilleDance

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">Mmusi Maimane has made history by becoming the first black leader of the country's biggest opposition party.

Maimane is positioning the party to uphold the values of Nelson Mandela and said its campaign for next year's local government elections starts now.

Newly elected party leader #MmusiMaimane thanked everyone who voted for him and says party #unity is essential for a better way forward. #DACongress #DA

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But he also faces many challenges.

It's a triumphant moment for Maimane, who has charisma and is a talented orator.

He's a potential vote-magnet for the DA as it positions itself as a party for all South Africans.

But Maimane's youth and meteoric rise means he must shake off accusations he's a token, being used to catch votes while party power brokers pull the strings behind the scenes.

Mmusi Maimane (Left) and Wilmot James (Right) were the two front-runners for the 2015 leaderhip race of the Democratic Alliance at the party's national congress in Port Elizabeth. Maimane won the race. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN

He will have to unite his party behind him, reshuffle portfolios in his parliamentary caucus without making too many enemies and he also has to lead the party into its local government elections campaign.

All this means he's got a tough time ahead.

In his victory speech, Maimane was quick to call for party unity after an at times acrimonious campaign against his opponent, party veteran Wilmot James.

Maimane said, "That's what makes us different from other parties. We contest elections and when they are over, we work together to fight our real enemies. Our real enemies are poverty, unemployment and inequality."

Maimane's campaign team said he secured 89.9 percent of the votes cast by 1244 delegates at the DA's watershed congress.

Eastern Cape DA leader Athol Trollip was elected party chairperson, defeating member of Parliament Makashule Gana and member of the provincial legislature Masizole Mnqasela.