THERE has been quite a bit of commentary online about the kiss which went too far, namely the failed merger between Agang and the DA. With Cape Times columnist Max du Preez uncharacteristically calling it the “kiss of death” — the criticism, mostly from men, of the moment when it looked as if South Africa’s opposition was about to be lead by a women’s coalition comprising Helen Zille, Mamphela Ramphele, Lindwe Mazibuko and Patricia de Lille — has been rather irksome.
Even more tiring is the predictable riposte from Zille, reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s response to Labour complaining about the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor had grown under Tory rule. Thatcher famously retaliated that Labour wanted nothing less than policies that would make the poor, poorer, “provided the rich were less rich.”
South Africa’s own iron lady, Helen Zille has thus reduced the Agang proposal for a merger, to an inappropriate request to decrease the gap between the rich and the poor. Yes, the entire party funding circus, in which the DA shifted blame for its own ineptitude on Agang, only to be caught by a rejoinder from the ANC, is really a bit like kissing a bride, and then making out with the best man, who happens to be the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek.
Hayek who has some interesting ideas about what motivates the market, may have gotten some elements of economic theory right, but he sure as hell never understood the ‘animal spirits’ and love affairs of John Maynard Keynes.
It may well be that funders pressed the two parties into a premature election arrangement, and it might also be the case that such funding would be more efficient for two pro-market parties — if they both shared resources — but this leaves out an important difference and point of departure while deflecting attention from the issue of foreign donors.
Agang, unlike the DA, favours an inclusive citizenship, in other words, a social welfare state backed up by a market economy. Agang thus would have brought an important addition to the DA rhetoric of service delivery. The DA under Zille’s leadership however, wanted nothing to do with such “socialistic” tendencies, choosing instead to back unbridled capitalism and unhindered market forces.
The party thus jettisoned any hope of the necessary corrective that Mamphela Ramphele’s social welfare “builders democracy” would bring, while reducing the Zille-Ramphela kiss to a kneejerk kick in the crotch. All really a childhood misdemeanor with serious consequences for the electorate?
The DA has increasingly seen itself at odds with the centrist-left ANC over issues such as National Health Insurance. Most recently the problem of Patient and Patent Rights with regard to generic medication has raised eyebrows. At one point, back in noughties, (what ever do we call the past decade?) the DA actually supported a liberal proposal for a Basic Income Grant.
With progressives at its centre, the party was even hammering the ANC and its red faction on its slow roll-out of ARVs, but these progressive policies now appear to have been abandoned, or at least they are now firmly on the back-burner, as conservatives within the party appear to have gained the upper hand to the detriment of social welfare.
If another centre-left opposition coalition attempt fails, the DA may yet enter the evangelical Christian right-wing collective. In order to do so, it would have to first abandon woman’s rights such as Choice in Termination of Pregnancy and other traditional progressive policies such as the teaching of Evolution in Schools.
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.
January 28 2014 at 10:18 am: DA announced that Mamphela Alleta Ramphele will be South Africa’s first black female presidential nomination. They announce the setting up of a joint technical committee to manage the merger of the two parties.
January 29 2014 at 01:31 pm: Agang party members call for Ramphele to return to Agang or resign at a press briefing at the party’s headquarters in Braamfontein.
Forbes Magazine carries news story stating “One Of South Africa’s Richest Women, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele” has announced “Run For President”
January 30 2014: South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) attacks both Zille and Mamphele, saying both “are birds of the same feather which flock together. They share the same political, economic and above all, education views” which the union nevertheless objects to as “unprincipled”.
January 31 2014 8:20 am: Agang accepts Ramphele’s explanation for her actions, withdraws its ultimatum, saying” A divided political opposition does not serve the best interests of South Africa.”
February 2 2014 09:09 am: DA issues its own ultimatum to Mamphele, she must join the DA and relinquish membership of Agang, or resign from the party’s presidential nomination.
February 2 2014 16:00 pm: Mamphele announces that she is not a member of the DA and has no intention of joining the party.
ULTIMATUMS usually end badly, especially in politics The Democratic Alliance’s pushing and shoving of presidential candidate Mamphela Ramphele this week, which saw the alliance forcing South Africa’s first black female presidential nomination to walk the plank on Monday, does not bode well for South Africa’s opposition.
Instead of a win-win situation, we are left with a lose-lose predicament in which both parties are taking flack from critics. The “game-changing” moment which promised a realignment of the political landscape has instead turned into a stark example of Bolwerism.
In negotiations with labour unions, it is an offer which is ultimate and to which no further revisions will be made. When Helen Zille “fired” her party’s only Presidential nomination, after a technical committee had spent barely hours attempting to thrash out a deal on Sunday which could have resulted in a win-win, political, face-saving solution, she was also firing her party’ hope for a future in which a black president drawn from the opposition has a chance of victory in the 2014 general election.
There are also bound to be consequences for labour to ending a professional relationship with a woman who has been highly critical of the use of cheap black labour to fund industrial capital in South Africa. Most recently Ramphele critiqued the mining industry, saying it was still stuck in the 19th century. Although Ramphele was once a non-executive director at Anglo American, in the light of Marikana, she requested to step down from the board with effect from 25 July 2012 in order to concentrate her efforts on her educational and societal interests.
Embarking on a campaign in South Africa’s rural heartland, Mamphele has been tackling the migrant labour system underpinning the nation’s economy.
Voters are left wondering if Zille forgot that it is an election year. Instead her “take it or leave it” ultimatum– a demand whose fulfillment is requested in a specified period of time and which is backed up by a threat to be followed through in case of noncompliance — is bound to result in more questions than answers, raising doubts about the integrity of her leadership.
A combined electoral college of the country’s opposition parties, in which each party canvassed votes to elect a Presidential candidate, who would first sit in the House of Assembly before rising to the National Executive, under a unified opposition coalition, or super-party, would have easily solved the political impasse and revolt within her own party.