South Africa: Get Out - a Gutted DA Stumbles Into the Past

Former Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane, left; new DA Federal Council Chairperson, Helen Zille, centre; and former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.
analysis

Well that went south quickly. Zille now has everything she wants, and yet she holds nothing in her hands but ashes.

South Africa's national pastime is the erasure of political memory. Let's defy that impulse for a moment, and think back to the early months of 2014. Helen Zille -- formerly a liberal anti-apartheid journalist; currently a white supremacist "classically liberal" social media ghoul -- was at the time the leader of the Democratic Alliance. After purging her party of viable successors, most notably then-parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, she was casting around for a black personality with star power to act as a front.

For a brief shining moment, she thought she had found the perfect candidate: Mamphela Ramphele, leader of the nascent Agang political party, one of those pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-apartheid-is-over-bitch type movements that emerge from the Sandton-tariat every now and again. Agang, backed by fawning white businessmen, was just a few months old and already a non-viable mess. The DA presidential candidacy looked like a serendipitous lifeline.

The arrangement, sealed with a kiss, lasted for 48 hours.

(Some additional intrigue: Zille broke Steve Biko's murder-in-detention story; Ramphele was Biko's partner at the time of his death. The intersecting narratives went...

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