THERE is so much that can be read into a kiss. In politics kisses can signal anything from rapprochement with an enemy, to the birth of a party.
The historic kiss between Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance and Mamphela Aletta Ramphele, affectionately known by her acronym MAR, which coincidentally, also sounds a lot like mother, is going to plague political analysts for years to come.
When the Democratic Alliance announced on national television that the life-partner of slain black consciousness leader Steven Bantu Biko was now their presidential candidate hopeful, the general public were stunned.
A real ‘ game-changing moment for South Africa” as Helen Zille put it, however not everyone was pleased, least of all some members of AGANG, the political movement and party that MAR had spent the better part of a year creating.
The press were quick to discount the kiss as a woman’s betrayal of her own movement, thus informing public opinion on the nature of such kisses before there was any time to reach consensus on what exactly was occurring so far as ‘kiss and tell’ was concerned. MAR has a unique brand of political lipstick that encompasses identity politics, gender relations and the active role of the citizen, and thus most Agang members were phoning into hotlines on South African radio wanting to give the woman the benefit of the doubt — a chance to explain herself — but her critics were having none of it, a literal field day, with the ANC characterising Ramphele as a “rent-a-black” and worse still, a “rent-a-face”.
Former members of Congress of the People (COPE) who had had experienced their own party’s long-winded leadership crisis and who had then returned to the ruling party in disgust, rushed out opinion pieces, as an unappreciative press weighed in on the significance of the kiss. Was it contagious, did the result end up in a black and white political party with coloured offspring, and so it goes.
Conflicting reports are now emerging, it would appear that the Gauteng branch of Agang has made plans to elect a new leader and ‘go it alone in the election’, while at national level, Agang social media is still inviting its members to attend regional meetings in which MAR will avail herself of the opportunity to outline her reasons for the decision and to place a roadmap on the table, which includes a programme of action based upon citizen benefits and the rooting out of government corruption. See who leads Agang?
The Democratic Alliance may thus have jumped the gun in rolling out plans for an operational merger and integration of members, and there have been no discussions at grassroots level as to how such an integration or merger will occur if at all.
Thus the kissing question remains, can MAR take the New Democratic Alliance into a coalition with her own movement, AGANG with a simple kiss, or is she now largely a ceremonial figure who has been co-opted by Helen Zille, who in reality has no plans to relinquish leadership of her own party? Will we see more such kissing opportunities with Patricia de Lille, and the black business lobby? Where does one line up, if all one wants in politics these days, is a bit of a peck?
The former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, and past director at the World Bank has a lot of explaining to do, but may still pull a rabbit out of a hat instead of removing it from Nelson Mandela’s ear. Indeed, she may not have to do all that much in terms of persuasion, since the AGANG party platform is not all that different from the Democratic Alliance manifesto, give or take a monopoly or two.
Mamphela Aletta Ramphele could yet become South Africa’s Corazon Aquino, the woman who became the Philippines 11th President. South Africa may yet have its first woman president.
UPDATE: Agang has affirmed that MAR is still the leader of the party, which has yet to merge with the DA. She is not a member of the DA but rather, the presidential candidate of an emerging coalition.