‘Embarassing fiasco’ as DA and Agang split after five-day affair

Mood between opposition parties Agang SA and the Democratic Alliance sours as their prospective political merger is rejected by Agang leader Dr Mamphela Ramphele, only a week after being named as the DA’s presidential candidate

agang 3 (Medium)IT was a bold move last week when the Democratic Alliance made the announcement that Agang SA, led by struggle activist Dr Mamphela Ramphele, would form a partnership. Details were limited at the time of the announcement, revealing the nomination of Dr Ramphele as the DA’s presidential candidate for the upcoming 2014 general elections only, although DA leader Helen Zille later publicly shared that a full incorporation of Agang into the DA was planned all along.

The prospective merger of the two parties did apparently not sit too well with Mamphela Ramphele, who over the weekend changed her mind about their political union. On the Agang SA website, Ramphele said: “I am leader of Agang SA, and Agang SA will continue its work to restore the promise of our freedom. We will continue to campaign for a better South Africa,” while also blaming party politics for the split. “The opportunity we saw, in announcing the partnership with Agang SA and the DA, has fallen victim to party politics. Let us remember the DA has served SA with conviction; it has within its ranks many who want only the best for SA. If I have to be a DA member […] then I cannot pursue the DA offer.”

The Democratic Alliance did, however, not take the broken promise lightly. Zille said on Monday that this move “signals the death knell for Agang”. Western Cape Premier Zille also described how this latest move has personally affected her long-standing relationship with Ramphele as a consequence of their abandoned plans: “Our personal friendship has taken a very bad knock. Dr Ramphele has accused us of a lack of integrity.”

“What the voters want more than anything else is a strong, united opposition force. It doesn’t help to have tiny, shattered, splinter parties all over the place. I knew Agang was in big trouble.”

Zille went on to name Ramphele’s suggestion of remaining the leader of an independent Agang SA while also accepting the nomination as the DA’s presidential candidate “electoral nonsense”, adding that it would be an unconstitutional move barring her from entering parliament as an MP as well.

“You can’t have the leader of one party be the presidential candidate of another. You can’t have an on-again off-again process. It was a premature announcement, which resulted in unhappiness between both DA and Agang leaders.”

Dr Ramphele said that the past week had been difficult for all parties involved, “but they come out of it stronger and wiser. Since the announcement last Tuesday, we have all been reminded that you have to listen to your members. Members within both parties have shown unhappiness at the announcement.”

Zille, however, believes that Ramphele backed out of an inevitable, thought-out plan for success. â€œFrom the DA’s point it had been a long time in coming. From boardrooms to shacks, people have said ‘Why don’t you and Mamphela get together’?” she said at the most recent press conference held by the DA leadership in Johannesburg.

“I’ve been talking to Dr Mamphela Ramphele since 2010 actually. She said that the time was not right then but she said there would be a time when it was right. In October-November, Ramphele said the time was right to make this move.”

Zille also went on to elaborate on the strategic value of the initially proposed partnership between the DA and Agang SA: “We can’t say that race doesn’t matter and is irrelevant. Being black in SA politics today is a very powerful message. But Dr Ramphele has a world brand. She has been a leader in many, many institutions. Ramphele has a worldwide reputation as a doctor, academic and manager. She’s also black and that is a powerful combination.”

But despite such candid words from Zille, the real disagreements behind press releases and news conferences remain unknown. The failed merger has already been coined “one of the most embarrassing political fiascos in recent South African history” in the press, setting the two protagonists of opposition politics up against each other in a seemingly Shakespearean plot of conflict and betrayal. There is more to this leadership competition than just two impeccably dressed ladies hoping to get votes. With Zille’s concession of the number one seat to multi-billionaire entrepreneur Ramphele, the DA’s parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko’s prospects of securing her own ongoing ambitions might have been compromised and possibly challenged.

Similarly, the idea of a struggling Agang SA without Ramphele’s sporadic yet insufficient cash injections may have shaken at the idealised self-image of the new grand-dame of the South African opposition, who would rather admit defeat now than be held accountable for failing her electorate later.

With the main opposition parties made up of (and contested by) such powerful women, the question arises how fairly the reporting on these events represents the actual events and how far distorted views purported by cultural notions of misogyny go to further erode credibility. With artificially created images of Zille and Ramphele caught up in compromising positions trending across various social media platforms, it is the public that should perhaps take the campaigns for the upcoming elections more seriously and not just the politicians themselves.

In the words of Zille: “South Africa is in a race against time to save its democracy. We have to take risks to save the country from becoming a failed state. We have to do this by 2019.”

By Sertan Sanderson, 2014

Do you think this so-called ‘embarassing political fiasco’ will cut Mamphela Ramphele’s political career short? Will it dent the DA’s campaign? Have your say below.