Mamphela Rampele: Why now?

2014-02-02 14:00

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Mamphela Ramphele explains her rationale for forming an alliance to lead the DA’s campaign

My personal history and the decisions I have taken at critical moments have not been conventional. There have been numerous occasions when I was asked the “why” question.

My entry into party politics in 2013 and, more recently, the decision to bring together Agang and the DA has raised many eyebrows. Why now?

Now is the time to re-align the political landscape and enable South Africans to build a country we can be proud of. The time to move beyond the prison of identity politics is upon us.

The underlying political ground in South Africa has shifted significantly in the last year. The aftermath of the Marikana massacre has seen the ANC tripartite alliance fracture, with, notably, the National Union of Mineworkers of SA dissociating from the ANC. For the first time in the post-apartheid era, the ANC is facing an election without the support of a well-oiled labour federation Cosatu machine. The ANC Youth League is a shadow of its former self and in no position to step up to the plate.

The passing of Madiba has freed many of the emotional obligation to vote for a party that is associated with this icon, despite its failures to live up to its promises. The booing of Jacob Zuma at Madiba’s memorial at the FNB Stadium said it all.

South Africa has been held captive to identity politics for the last 20 years. There is no other country in the world that calls itself a constitutional democracy that would contemplate electoral success for a party that has failed to perform in all key functions.

A government that has presided over a decline in education and training quality as the ANC has done would not be rewarded with success at the polls. A government that failed to protect a six-year-old from drowning in a pit toilet would be bundled out of power by voters.

The only reason the ANC approaches the election with some confidence is it has entrapped us all in identity politics.

That is why I have decided to link hands with other freedom-loving democrats in the DA to mobilise citizens to vote for change before it is too late. At the launch of Agang as a political platform at the Women’s Prison in Johannesburg last February I committed to continue to search for ways to realign the political landscape. This decision is the outcome of that commitment.

Agang has held talks with many parties over the past year in pursuit of this commitment. Many of the attempts came close to fruition, but faltered at the last moment. Our continued discussions with the DA since agreeing to disagree last year have been public knowledge. This time we are determined to seize the moment of opportunity in this shifting political landscape.

The continued fragmentation of the opposition parties only benefits the ANC. The arrogance of its leaders comes from knowing that voters will vote for them regardless of their corruption and incompetence.

This coming together between Agang and the DA will strengthen the voice of citizens. The voices and choices of poor men and women, of young and old, of urban and rural people, have been undermined by the ANC. The votes of poor people are bought with food parcels. Voters need to say that enough is enough.

I am doing this now because the country faces a risk of continuing economic decline due to a loss of confidence in our government by potential investors at home and abroad.

I am doing this because the country is desperately in need of leadership that can restore confidence, trust and integrity in public service. I am doing this so our country can once more use its enormous natural, mineral and human resources to be the success of which it is capable.

There are those who see this as a betrayal, including members of Agang. They fear that I may be used as a black woman’s face to give credibility to the DA that is still seen by some as a white party despite some recognition of Helen Zille’s efforts to transform it.

I would like to remind those concerned fellow citizens that the same fears were expressed to me when I took up the vice-chancellorship of the University of Cape Town. But UCT became the trendsetter in the transformation of higher education and promotes equity and excellence.

Misgivings also greeted my joining the World Bank as a managing director in 2000. The fear was that I would be a tool of Western development agendas that undermine poor countries. The change from a narrow economistic focus in development to a more comprehensive approach was the challenging brief then that president Jim Wolfensohn gave me, which I enjoyed discharging. It was a rewarding four-year journey.

The challenge of leadership is to find ways of making the unthinkable doable and ordinary. Madiba set us a great example of crossing the possibility boundary by talking to his jailers despite opposition from his comrades. He took the risk of being labelled a traitor in the interests of our country. He built bridges across angry divides and made us a proud people.

Identity politics has prevented South Africans from punishing the ANC for its outrageous culture of impunity and corruption in government today. Many black people are ashamed to publicly criticise a black government. They feel a duty to defend the indefensible for fear of emboldening white racists to tar every black person with the corruption brush. White people too are afraid of being labelled racists for criticising a corrupt majority black government.

The time has come to tackle our self-imposed powerlessness and seize the moment to use our vote to punish impunity.

The time has come to demand accountability for performance from our government regardless of the colour of those in leadership. Our children deserve better. Men and women, young and old, black and white, deserve better. It is black poor people who bear the burden of this failing ANC government. It is time for change.

We have demonstrated our ability to rise above our legacy at critical points in our history: the 1993 settlement agreement; the 1995 rugby World Cup and the 2010 Fifa soccer World Cup.

The partnership between Agang and the DA offers us another opportunity to rise to the challenge of uniting as South Africans to change the quality of governance for the better. We owe it to our children and our children’s children.

»?Ramphele is leader of Agang and the presidential candidate for the DA

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