A WEEK in South African politics is like a lifetime in the developing world. What started out as the “game-changing” realignment of South Africa’s major opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, soon descended into acrimony and mudslinging with party leader Helen Zille fielding questions about the withdrawal of funding. What had initially appeared to be a shot-gun wedding, a quickie marriage, soon turned into a divorce. What had possessed Zille to go back on her announcement the previous week, that Mamphela Ramphele would not only be South Africa’s first, ever black female Presidential candidate, but rather the DA’s presidential candidate of choice?
It appears that several factors related to the pact between the two parties, namely Agang and the DA, played a role in Zille retracting her decision and issuing an ultimatum that, now seems absurd in the runup to a general election.
The issue of the inclusion or merger of Agang into a unified political platform in which the DA was to be the major stakeholder and anchor tenant appears to have been the deal-breaker which ended up sinking the ship. Instead of drawing in Agang and Ramphele’s unique brand of politics which includes an enormous amount of work done on policies affecting education, labour, health, development and the public service — in effect Ramphele’s outlook on the South African economy — the visionary dream thing, of citizenship, welfare and service delivery — “building the country, for the builders, by the builders” — the DA instead decided to play hardball.
“Agang must collapse its structures” demanded Zille. DA analysts pointed to the party’s supposed “lack of traction”, “funding crisis” and “non-existent’ presence in Parliament. ANC aligned critics were in the meantime, maligning the arrangement and proposed merger as an example of “rent-a-black”. Was the DA simply “cherry-picking” or “parachuting” in a black face to cover-up for its lack of black representatives in Parliament? Agang may not have a well-oiled political machine, but it most certainly has members, many of whom would never vote for the DA.
Zille could have stepped forward with a 12 step plan to take both the DA and Agang forward. Instead she lost traction within her own party, squaring up to a revolt in the ranks, as Ramphele moved to quell dissent within Agang with her pleas for a unified opposition. Leadership is not about getting into the nitty gritty of contract, it is all about understanding the broader picture, in which collective decision-making, consensus-building, and being ‘first amongst equals’ matters more than personal issues.
The prospect of playing second-fiddle to a powerful business-woman like Ramphele must have given Zille nightmares at night.
Three women, all of different complexion is a neat “triumvirate” but four women? That’s an uncomfortable crowd that cancels out the secret feminine “locus of power”. Did Zille go too far in playing the Ramphele card?
Should she have at least have tried to include a few men in the picture?
The debacle has most certainly allowed both Maimane and Mazibuko to come to the fore.
As the saying goes, no press is bad press. The huge amount of exposure for both Agang and the DA served to take the wind out of the sails of the ANC and its political cohorts for at least a week, more importantly, it presented South Africa with a brilliant alternative. For a brief while, citizens across the nation dreamed of a future in which a black woman could become president.
Whether or not this dream will ever be realised is up to the politicians involved.