BLUE STATE DIGITAL are the campaign managers responsible for the astounding Obama electoral victory. At least this is how they like to view themselves, as a “digital strategy and technology firm” that specializes in online fundraising, advocacy, social networking, and constituency development.
The company provided services for the 2008 and 2012 Barack Obama presidential campaigns, but was roped into South Africa’s 2014 elections by a high powered local businesswoman with presidential ambitions.
When Mamphela Ramphele announced her 2014 campaign, along with a new party, the presence of Blue State Digital was merely one of those interesting notes to press releases. Yes, she would be hiring Obama’s campaign managers, but no, she had her own ideas of what needed to happen on the ground.
The result was one of the better looking campaigns, replete with fresh logos, squeaky clean promo videos, and digital media as press attention was immediately focused on the upstart party called Agang, or Sotho for “let us build”, a party that promised to pick up Nelson Mandela’s legacy, in the months following his state funeral.
Not only would Ramphele be supplying her unique sassy business image as a successful woman, and a struggle career as the romantic connection to the late Steve Bantu Biko, but she also boldly sought to build a grassroots movement overnight, one that actually stood a chance of recovering South Africa from what was now considered a corrupt ANC administration, all too easily swayed by vested interests.
What started out looking like a revolution in the making, lead by the country’s equivalent of the late Corezon Aquino of the Philippines, soon turned into a fiasco and enmity, as the heroine went from hero to zero in less than a week.
It appears that Blue Sky Digital neglected to hire a local political adviser with knowledge of the intricacies of the country’s constitution. South Africa has a proportional representation system in which presidential candidates are elected by their parties, not by a separate ballot.*
Thus Ramphele’s US primaries moment, played itself out in slow motion, with all the bells, whistles and fireworks of a United States 4th of July parade stuck in Brakfontein.
That sickening, nauseating moment, as MAR, as she is affectionately known, goes on national television, announcing her candidacy for the presidency, not as the head of Agang, but rather as the candidate for the Blue Party.
Blue State Digital appears to have brokered a short circuit of the national electoral system, with the DA rebranding itself, only to lose Lindiwe Mazibuko, as Musi Maimane stepped into a new role as South Africa’s “answer to Barack Obama” playing to an audience comprised of multichoice television watchers.
The fallout must rate as one of the worst super bowl moments in living memory, when suspension of disbelief, the fantasy created by BSD product placement, is instead replaced by universal recognition, that the game being played, was in the wrong stadium, and with an entirely different set of rules.
At first media speculation was rife, that outside funders were responsible for the failed coalition.
Now one year later, it is clear, that campaign mismanagement put paid to MAR’s political career.
The latest fiasco in which the titular head of Agang, one Andries Molapi Tlouamma, has started referring to a “secret party congress”, after MAR refused to take up one of the two seats won by Agang in parliament, with barely 1% of the vote would suggest that Agang is a party in name only.
* There is a good case to be made that a presidential ballot would result in better leadership in South Africa, but currently this is not how the system works.