Mamphela had a Party
Jonathan Faull | January 29th, 2014


A star that shone too brightly has been snuffed out before its time.

On Tuesday, not even a year since its launch, and months shy of contesting its first – and South Africa’s fourth – democratic election, Agang has announced that it will merge with the Democratic Alliance (DA), and its leader, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, will lead the DA’s campaign as its presidential candidate.

It all appears somewhat farcical… and make no mistake, it is.

A visitor from out of space, locked in a room with nothing to read but the South African press from the last year, would have been forgiven for thinking that Agang represented some kind of fundamental realignment in South African opposition politics, and that Mamphela Ramphele – former World Bank executive director, former mine magnate, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, former lover of Steve Biko, anthropologist, and occasional political activist – was the veritable embodiment of a new class of black political leadership that would steer a gullible electorate through the precipitous abyss into which the African National Congress had herded it.

It was not to be, and was never to be.

Mamphela rejected overtures on the part of DA in “the middle of 2012” for her to join the party. In her autobiography A Passion for Freedom, published TWO MONTHS AGO, she stated that the DA “[does] not understand the transformational challenges facing the country”; “They [the DA] were afraid of white racism”; and, critically, that “[Nothing] would be achieved by my joining the DA”. The book quotes her son, Malusi, as saying he “would rather die” than vote DA.

A political novice, motivated by extreme hubris has walked a short road to DAmascus, and is now warmly ensconced in the botoxed embrace of Helen Zille.

Citizen Mamphela” is now “honoured” to lead the DA in the 2014 election. Distastefully, and entirely disingenuously, her statement announcing this change of tack implies that she is somehow motivated by “The death of Nelson Mandela” which “has changed many things for South Africa”.

We said a year ago that:

Ramphele has never enjoyed widespread grassroots support as a political figure in South Africa and hasn’t been active in any political movement for at least 30 years… Ramphele’s political authenticity is premised on a largely symbolic association with the [Black Consciousness Movement] BCM, a movement with which she has had no practical connection since the early 1980’s.

It is a matter of deep historical irony that Ramphele’s natural constituency is precisely that against which Biko–before he was assassinated–railed in his days leading the fleetingly powerful BCM… While Agang will stir the hearts of liberal newspaper editors, and lead to excited chatter in the old age homes of Constantia and Houghton, it is unlikely to draw significant support or break the existing mold of South African politics… Don’t watch this space.

But we will defer to Ramphele for the final word: “So what would be achieved by my joining the DA or even joining a rebranded DA?”

Oh god, let us quote you… “Nothing.”


Allegedly, it is already messy.

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Jonathan Faull

African political junkie currently marooned in the cold wastelands of the north

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5 thoughts on “Mamphela had a Party

  1. ah, what the hell man! what is your deal? smile some! geez so much negativity! The ANC chuckles straight to the bank whilst all this unnecessary heckling ensues amongst the opposing ranks. Come on guys…PERSPECTIVE!….PER_SPEC_TIVE.

  2. Fantastic reflection on the circus drama called ‘opposition party politics’. Perfectly said, and spot on!!
    Only the dwindling afrophobic white minority will defend this political irrelevance – after all, Mamphela is black – which, of course, means the DA is now al last inclusive and representative.
    As if.

    • True story. Everyone acts as if Mamphela will change the policies of the DA. Patricia de Lille’s party Independent Democrats was also merged with the DA and we never saw Patricia again. Nor did the party do anything to alleviate the drug issues that plague the coloured community in Cape Town. What most white middle class Cape Townians are trying to do is to just protect and keep their assets. At the expense of WHO I ask? Helen Zille and her DA do not care about poverty alleviation and the many inequalities people of colour face…You recognise that within minutes of scouring her Cape Town…

  3. People get into politics to wield power. Mamphela has obviously decided this is her best shot at getting some power. I agree it is a seriously long shot, but is anyone seriously suggesting that Agang was going to have an impact either? Seriously? I like that word right now. EFF is going to dig into the ANC from the left, the DA from the right and the ANC is going to lose their 2/3rds majority, as they should. Everything else is small stuff.

  4. Good article. Ramphele’s trading on her Biko-ness and criticising BEE is a joke given how she criticises the emphasis on the struggle and is swimming in money from BEE deals. She’s a hypocrite and opportunist.

    @Liz: “The ANC chuckles straight to the bank whilst all this unnecessary heckling ensues amongst the opposing ranks.”

    Yes, we should all stop criticising lest we divide our ranks. I think Donald Rumsfeld said that about the war on terror? Stupid argument.

    @Justin: “the ANC is going to lose their 2/3rds majority, as they should. Everything else is small stuff.”

    Another stupid argument. People have been obsessing about the 2/3rds majority since 1994 and when the ANC has had it what has happened? Hmmmm? Or do you just believe DA press releases?

    Yes, the ANC is a mess but that doesn’t mean we should gloss over what is just a different kind of mess in the opposition.

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