Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ramphele subtracts even more from the Democratic Alliance's shaky credibility

Ramphele is to be the DA's presidential candidate 

DA leader, Helen Zille, announced this morning that Agang leader, Mamphela Ramphele is the DA's presidential candidate for the 2014 general elections.

Yesterday there was some speculation in the media that Agang would join the DA but it remained unconfirmed until this morning's announcement.

Those of you who follow party politics in South Africa will know that Ramphele has failed to successfully launch Agang into a fully fledged political party.

Rumors were that she was fund raising in the US but not too long ago it was clear that the wannabe party was bankrupt and all but stalled.

In this context, it is baffling to me why the DA would send out a lifeline to Ramphele.  It is even more baffling why that lifeline would be an invitation to be its presidential candidate.

What value does Ramphele bring to the DA other than a not too tacit announcement that the party thinks it is more viable in the upcoming elections if it fronts a black candidate for president.

The unspoken message the DA is sending is that we are OK with fronting a black woman who is a gross beneficiary of AA and BEE - raced based policies the DA supposedly abhors - if it will make us appear more credible.

In my decades as a political scientist I know of no political party in the democratic tradition that has appointed a presidential candidate from outside of its ranks.

A presidential candidate is, after all, a very senior position usually afforded to stalwarts of the party.  In other words, a presidential candidate is usually someone who has worked his or her way up through the ranks of the party. 

In this case, Ramphele has never even been a member of the DA let alone a candidate for any of its elected posts internal to the party or external to it.

It is bizarre to say the least but it raises a host of questions about the credibility of the main opposition party in South Africa.

First, the manner in which this decision has been taken lacks a measure of transparency that speaks to broad and open consultation inside the DA.  As it stands now the decision to front Ramphele is nothing more than a tactical and political move by the top leadership.

Most DA supporters went to bed last night not even knowing that Ramphele would be their presidential candidate this morning; this is not democracy in action by any stretch of the imagination.

A second aspect is that the DA is consolidating its appeal to elitist politics that is wholly out-of-touch with the black masses of this country.  Ramphele may be black but she has more in common with rich white folk than the people she thinks she can save from the ruling African National Congress.

Third, those voters who were going to vote DA will still vote DA and the presence of Ramphele will have no appreciable influence in terms of greater support.  The same is true for those who were not going to vote for the DA.  Ramphele will not garner the party any more votes at the provincial or national levels.

If anything, her absorption into the DA is a distinct liability for the party and its pretense to unseat the ANC.

Finally, the question of the DA's leadership and vision is paradoxical.  How can the leading opposition party make plans into the future based on the cult of personality that Ramphele exudes?

Ramphele has no track record in politics and even where she was involved in what can be described as politics she has not won any support from common folks.  See her trampling of workers at the University of Cape Town, for example.

If the leadership had thought through the consequences they would know that there is no way in hell that they will win at the national level anyway.  So then what will they do with this self-styled prima donna in South African politics?

Again, I want to reiterate that Ramphele has not held any public political office and is, in effect, a political novice driven by narrow ambition.  For this reason, her presence after the 2014 elections will prove to be a liability and hindrance to the DA and they will rue the day they invited this self-centered novice into their world of election politics.

And what is to become of Agang now?  As it appears the decision to join the DA was Ramphele's and not one decided on by her supposed party.  This is yet another indication of an individual not carved out in the best of democratic traditions.

At a personal level there is zero chance that I will vote for the DA.  Now with the addition of Ramphele there is even less than zero chance that I will vote for them.

Democracies need opposition parties.  But the DA is a sorry mess of old order angst wrapped up in new era whiteness and neo-liberal pretenses.

What South Africa sorely needs is a vibrant opposition with vision and principle that is connected to the masses in order for it to be legitimate.

The DA has none of these qualities.


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