analysisBy Greg Nicolson
Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele faced the media on Monday to explain what happened after the party's partnership with the Democratic Alliance fell apart on Sunday. We didn't learn much, except that Ramphele believes that sometimes a leader's gotta do what a leader's gotta do, and she still thinks she has a shot in the upcoming elections.
Agang members rushed to the window of their ninth floor Braamfontein offices. Passing through the streets, a convoy of VIP Protection vehicles squeezed through traffic, sirens wailing in the rain. “Zuma,” they said, watching in silence. When she finally arrived at Monday’s press conference, Ramphele tried to shift attention back to the president and the ANC.
“The real issue we should be focusing on is the ANC’s performance,” she read from her statement. Police are killing protestors. Services are not being delivered. Corruption continues while jobs remain scarce. Agang was founded to fight these issues and it will be a home for the millions of voters who don’t trust any of the other options, Ramphele announced boldly.
She wanted to separate her, by now laughable, flirtation with the DA and Agang’s chances in 2014. Despite all her attempts to move on, the two are clearly related.
Ramphele admitted that she had made a mistake but couldn’t explain her bizarre venture into the DA. Why did she enter into the pact without consulting her party? Ramphele referenced former president Nelson Mandela’s discussions with the National Party where, without the blessing of his comrades, he helped negotiate a peaceful settlement to end Apartheid. “History is littered with examples of successful transitions which are started as elite pacts, agreements between leaders, including our own settlement here in South Africa,” she said. “All I needed was time to go through that process. Unfortunately there wasn’t the time allowed.”
Ramphele was cagey on what happened during the fallout between her and Helen Zille, but it’s clear she wanted to remain the leader of Agang while running as the DA’s presidential candidate. “In the same way that Helen Zille remains the leader of the DA, I could remain leader of Agang,” she figured. Zille rubbishes that idea, saying Ramphele had to be a member of the DA to be on the party’s list of candidates, and Ramphele had agreed that her party would be merged into the larger DA.
To do so, Ramphele needed to take the idea to Agang’s national leadership or a national congress. She did neither, and it’s unclear whether she planned to before it blew up in her face. “Can we just have clarity about two things?” said Ramphele on Monday. “I accepted nomination to be the DA’s presidential candidate. The details of what that would imply would need to be worked out by the technical committee.” When Agang members responded to last week’s announcement with shock and outrage, the deal was effectively off, unless Ramphele jumped ship and joined the DA without Agang.
“Did we both rush into it? Yes, I’m afraid so,” said Ramphele. “Many of you will remember that there were leaks in the media before that Tuesday and I thought it was in the interests of both parties and the country to say we are talking about the partnership between the DA and Agang and to say there is this offer on the table and I thought that was perfectly in order, instead of being untruthful,” added the Agang leader.
Agang’s legitimacy has taken a severe knock from the considerable amount of confusion Ramphele’s actions have caused, but she remains confident. “We have to remember that there are 13 million voters out there who in 2009 didn’t vote because they didn’t trust any of the political parties on the ballot,” Ramphele told journalists. “We remain a trustworthy alternative for those people.” The party remains open to talks about a coalition after the elections as Ramphele remains committed to “realigning the political landscape”, she said.
Votes will show whether Agang is in fact the laughing stock it’s being made out to be or could still be considered a viable alternative, but the party now has another challenge. If Ramphele saw enough mutual interests to want to partner with the DA, what can the smaller, less-resourced party offer voters? Agang Youth forum convener Rorisang Tshabalala said members remain committed to Ramphele and the party, as it gives ordinary citizens a voice regardless of their looks or speech. Ramphele said Agang has no baggage, is rooted in the struggle for freedom, and allows one to stand up and say, “I’ve made a mistake.” In other words, there’s little difference from the DA, except for its prominent, now somewhat tarnished, black leader.
Ramphele’s was cagey on Monday on the details of what actually happened with the DA and why it happened, but her tone had changed from the previous week. “This is not the time to talk about the ANC,” she grandly told the press conference in Cape Town last Tuesday. “This partnership will deliver the country of your dreams; the country of our dreams.”
Rather, it’s turned out to be a nightmare. Instead of focusing on the ANC’s scandals, the opposition parties are the butt of public attention. Sitting cosily in his convoy after seeing Michael Bloombers, President Zuma must be laughing at the brief reprieve.