Rochelle de Kock and Jan Jan Joubert
A BOLD move by the DA to field Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele as its presidential candidate in the upcoming general election will only marginally improve the party’s chances of winning over the electorate in the Eastern Cape, analysts said yesterday.
While DA leader Helen Zille described the merger as a game-changing moment for South Africa, political analysts said it was a massive gamble which could either expand the party’s support base or see the white old guard withdraw their support for the DA.
However, it is not yet clear if Agang SA will be integrated into the party in its entirety.
Agang communications director Mark Peach said a technical committee would be established to work out the details of the partnership going forward.
Ramphele was still not a DA member when the announcement was made in Cape Town yesterday morning, but the plan was for her to join the party as soon as possible.
Her move to the DA, which has been the subject of frequent and ongoing negotiations over the last two years, will be the precursor to Agang ceasing to exist.
She will be placed very high on the DA parliamentary lists, and will be a DA MP after the elections.
Announcing Ramphele’s acceptance of the nomination for president, Zille said: “When I was elected leader of the Democratic Alliance in 2007, I set out the case for a fundamental realignment of our politics.
“I said then that political change would come about as the old political formations became obsolete. We can see this happening now …
“The DA leadership is drawn from across the political spectrum.
“Some of us come from the liberal tradition that opposed apartheid. Others were previously members of the ANC. Some were part of the Pan-Africanist movement. And others have a Black Consciousness background.
“But we all share the same values. The belief in an open-opportunity society for all characterised by non-racialism, a market economy, human rights and prosperity for every South African.
“I know Mamphela as a principled, fiercely determined person who loves her country deeply and devotes her life to the cause of making democracy work. I can think of no better person to be our presidential candidate as we head into the most contested election of our democratic dispensation.”
Accepting the nomination, Ramphele said: “Today is another astonishing moment in what we offer the people of South Africa, and once again the world.
“Good people in the ANC have reached out to us, but are scared.
“Good business leaders have reached out to us but are nervous,” she saiud.
“Millions want to make a different choice in this election. They say enough is enough.
“This is your government-in- waiting. I will not lead you, not lead us, or lead South Africa on the path of conflict, but of commitment – to you, to your children, to health, to high-quality education and job opportunities.”
In Ramphele, the DA appears to believe it has found a leader who can nudge the dial in its favour, or at least neutralise the ANC’s attack and tap into deep voter unease.
She described her move as “a historic moment”.
“We are going to take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance,” Ramphele said.
“We are taking away that race card and putting it in the dustbin.”
But the ANC claimed the DA was using her because of the colour of her skin. “It’s a rent-a-black, rent-a- leader” campaign, ANC secretary- general Gwede Mantashe said. “We can’t be concerned about that.”
Rumours that Agang was losing steam and that its funding had dried up have persisted over the last few months.
The party could not pay all its employees last month.
Ramphele, however, denied that the party was bankrupt, claiming the only bankruptcy in South African politics was what she termed the ANC’s moral bankruptcy.
Agang rank-and-file members, who were not consulted about their leader’s decision to jump ship and implode the party into the DA, lay low yesterday, with some voicing their displeasure on social media.
Ramphele was at pains to explain her defection to Zille’s party, which she strongly denounced as a party of white privilege in her autobiography published last year.
She said yesterday politics had changed, especially insofar as growing unhappiness with the ANC was concerned, and that the death of former President Nelson Mandela had robbed the country of its moral icon.
There was also an awkward moment for Ramphele when it was pointed out that some of Agang’s supporters had taken to social media networks to express their sense of betrayal about her joining forces with the DA and her failure to even inform or consult them before making the announcement.
But Ramphele downplayed this, saying it had been impossible to consult all the structures of Agang on the matter.
She said by joining the DA, she was providing leadership to her Agang followers.
“This is leadership. Leadership is about making decisions that are appropriate for the given moment.”
However, the immediate public reaction suggested some voters see the move as a bid by the DA to win black support.
“The DA doesn’t represent black aspirations, the hierarchy of the DA is white male,” said independent film maker Sindile Mnguni, smoking a cigarette next to a six-metre bronze statue of Mandela outside the Sandton City mall in Johannesburg.
“[Ramphele] is opportunistic, that’s my take on it. Why did she even bother starting a party in the first place? It’s a cop out,” Mnguni said.
According to Papi Thomas, a 25-year-old financial adviser, the move appeared to be a bid by Agang to get into parliament through the back door, since it might not make it alone.
“That changes my opinion on who I might have voted for. Who knows? The ANC might get my vote now,” Thomas said. As DA presidential candidate, Ramphele could have an inside track on being elected DA leader in the National Assembly and leader of the opposition – now held by Lindiwe Mazibuko.
The DA caucus freely elects the parliamentary leader and any MP can stand as a candidate.
On the possibility of Ramphele challenging Mazibuko for the parliamentary leadership, party insiders said it was early days yet, but Ramphele and Mazibuko had a very close personal relationship and Mazibuko had worked hard to get Ramphele into the DA.
Mazibuko said: “This has been my goal, something for which I have strived. I am overjoyed at welcoming Mamphela into the DA.”
Meanwhile, political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni said: “There should be a marginal improvement for the DA in the Eastern Cape, especially among black middle-class voters.
“Dr Ramphele’s image received a dent when her party was reported to be in trouble [financially], so she comes in a diminished position,” Fikeni said.
“Those who had faith in her – those die-hard supporters – will follow her to the DA, but others will go to other parties and some even back to the ANC.
“By fielding so many black candidates, Helen Zille has taken a huge gamble …
“There are several factions within the DA and either way there will be a backlash from the white English liberals or Afrikaners who might feel they have been overlooked for positions.
“If it doesn’t work, it could have massive implications for the DA.”
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University political analyst Dr Joleen Steyn-Kotze said the move could see new voters join the coalition, but it could push others to leave the DA.
“There is a 50-50 chance that those who were in Agang could follow Dr Ramphele. I do think it could strengthen the DA in the Eastern Cape, but not to the extent that it would get a large majority. – Additional reporting by AFP