WHEN a political conservative of the stature of RW Johnson starts attacking you, then you know you must be doing something right. In 2010 73 prominent writers and academics wrote letters complaining about the man’s use of the term “baboon” to describe African migrants and the occupants of South Africa’s informal settlements. Labelled a racist because of his column in the London Review of Books, Johnson is also the former head of the Helen Suzman foundation, a Democratic Alliance think-tank.
In the weird world of South Africa’s so-called liberal politics, conservatives freely mingle with what are known as Progs. Not progressives as such, but rather Progressive Federalists. It was therefore power dynamics within the Democratic Alliance party structures, in particular its Federal Executive (FEDEX), which threatened to derail the Agang merger over the Weekend, as party leader Helen Zille took her own brand of gender politics into a collision course with youth leader, Mbali Ntuli, forgetting some of the most basic principles of consensus building within large organisations.
That the DA party needs a serious overhaul of its federal executive, if it has any hope of drawing in the left-of-centre upstart, Agang as well as other opposition parties such as COPE, is plain to see.
Mamphela Ramphele may be a former director of the World Bank, but her politics are most definitely not indicative of classic liberalism in the South African sense, nor are they conservative or colonial values. Rather, Ramphele represents a definitive break from the white old guard — the vertical, monied constituency attitudes of the DA and its business lobby — with a move towards a horizontal, mass-based mobilisation of South Africa’s rural poor. Mamphele also has support amongst the emerging black middle class as well as social democrats who realise that only an opposition coalition around the fundamentals of citizenship, constitutionalism and service delivery can hope to gain power in the 2014 elections.
RW Johnson may as well have invoked the Peter Principle last week when he labelled Ramphele’s “entrance onto the political scene” as an “an accident waiting to happen”. In a piece lambasting her achievements at the University of Cape Town, and deriding a sterling performance on various trusts, executive boards and the World Bank, Johnson produced the usual colonial, chauvinistic and racist invective, once reserved for Marxists and left-leaning types such as Andrew Donaldson.
The Peter Principle is a management theory which suggests that organizations risk filling management roles with people who are incompetent if they promote those who are performing well at their current role, rather than those who have proven abilities at the intended role. It is named after Laurence J. Peter who co-authored the 1969 humorous book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong with Raymond Hull. They suggest that people will tend to be promoted until they reach their “position of incompetence”.
The Democratic Alliance’s struggle to balance its own incompetence and varied internal political aspirations with the nation-wide potential for a sudden influx of the black masses, represented by Agang, may yet vindicate Johnson and the conservative business lobby.
Looking at the throng of Basotho in South Africa who have an affinity for Mamphela Aletta Ramphele aka MAR, a native Sotho speaker, one couldn’t help but notice the disparity in numbers –the party is as yet untested at the polls but is rapidly gaining traction as a new political animal evolves around the one woman with a chance to become South Africa’s first ever black, female President. So far as the press and black South Africans are concerned, MAR has become the only game in town.
Agang are able to field a literal soccer team of youth in areas where it counts most in South Africa’s townships, while the Democratic Alliance, at least, in its lily white form encapsulated by Helen Suzman and represented by FEDEX, are barely able to wield a full deck when it comes to black empowerment and affirmative action. Whether the resulting train smash in political cultures and nation-building policies results in a New Democratic Alliance, a broad coalition that rebrands itself around homespun African values, or whether the conflict signals a return to the colonial dogmas of the past, remains to be seen.
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.
THIS year marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election. The upcoming general election to be held on a date still to be announced during the April–July 2014 period could signal a see-change in politics.
The ruling ANC party has faced an enormous amount of criticism and pressure from the electorate under the Zuma administration. The last election was held on 22 April 2009. Currently the ANC has 264 seats with the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance holding 67. Since South Africa’s proportional representation system favours small parties, runner-up Congress of the People (COPE) 30 and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) 18 also play an important role.
Here are three scenarios that could play out in the ensuing months.
1. ANC retains power with a decreased majority
If the Tlokwe bi-election is anything to go by, the ANC could see its majority in parliament reduced to 53%. The ruling party barely squeezed past the post to win the ward in 2013 with a reduced majority down from 90% in 2011. In this scenario, a weakened ruling party will continue to govern but face enormous pressure in the House of Assembly when it comes to passing legislation. It will thus still need support of smaller opposition parties in order to govern. The only caveat on this scenario is the potential post-Mandela gain from the party’s association with Madiba. With Long Walk to Freedom a box office hit in South Africa, the ANC may yet confound its critics. The post-Independence Congress Party of India managed to stay in power for 25 years. With a Gandhi-like father figure in Mandela, the ANC is likely to do the same.
2. ANC enters a centre-left coalition
Newcomer on the block Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) look set to benefit from the ANC purge of the ultra-leftist Julius Malema from his controversial leadership of the ANCYL. The shrude and politically astute politician has run a bruising Post-Marikana campaign that could see the EFF garner a massive bounty of seats currently occupied by ANC leftist stalwarts. Conservative estimates are that the party will fair as well, if not better than the previous newcomer, COPE. However in the labour unrest climate of today, anything could happen. A protest vote by workers against a range of ANC scandals including Nkandla, Guptagate and a groundswell reaction by voters against the excesses of the Zuma administration could leave the EFF in a position to be the deal-brokers in a centre-left coalition that results in the ANC sharing power with other left-leaning parties. One of the obvious concerns from an economic stand-point is how such a coalition will resolve differences in economic policy. The EFF currently favours bringing an end to market capitalism and the creation of a command economy under a centralised state.
3. ANC enters a social democratic coalition.
If the EFF are not the joker in the pack, then this emerging social democratic coalition could really upset the ruling party at election time. Newly formed Agang which means “build” in Sesotho, promise renewal and a return to the homespun values of black consciousness leader Steve Biko and with Mamphela Ramphele at the helm of a political formation that may result in a women president, if not in this election, at least by the next general election in 2019, South Africa could see 50% of the electorate placing their crosses next to their choice in gender. In fact a female president could be within reach in 2014, and she may well be a surprise candidate. With the Democratic Alliance triumvirate of Helen Zille, Patricia de Lille and Lindiwe Mazibuko threatening to overturn the current emphasis on masculinity under Jacob Zuma, (the president has a millstone around his neck in the form of fallout from a failed rape-trial) the upset result could mean the DA and Agang carry the seats needed to form a social democratic coalition with smaller parties such as COPE and IFP. A social democratic coalition that retains elements of the market economy while offering welfare benefits to citizens may well gobble up what remains of the ANC centre when floor-crossing and jobs are on the line.
Whichever of the above scenarios play out, it is important to note that South Africa’s fledgling democracy has withstood many tests of its political will. Backed by a Constitution and Bill of Rights, the country is one of the few nations with a “We the People” Constitution. The post-Nelson Mandela era has ushered in the possibility that the rapidly developing country could join the ranks of the developed world in less than a decade. With growth on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange averaging 18% pa, South Africa’s thriving market economy may yet save the nation from the fate of its neighbours.
2009 results by PMG