A Vegas wedding destined for divorce

2014-02-03 10:00

A phrase you are very likely to hear in a conversation with Mamphela Ramphele is this one: “What you do not understand is...”

This phrase is uttered in a condescending fashion that is designed to put you in your place and establish her as the superior interlocutor in the exchange.

It is most likely the line she would have used if she had the decency to consult the leadership of Agang SA before making the dramatic announcement that she was to be the presidential candidate for the Democratic Alliance (DA).

She would most likely have told them she was politically more far-sighted than they were and they should therefore not challenge her decision.

This is the reason most party leaders only learnt of her decision during the televised press conference at exactly the same time as the rest of the country.

The wise Ramphele had surmised that due to their lesser intellect, they just simply would not have understood her brilliant strategy. It was quite striking that at the press conference she was the only Agang leader alongside DA supremos Helen Zille, Wilmot James, Lindiwe Mazibuko, James Selfe and Mmusi Maimane.

Labelling the move as “a game-changing” and “historic moment” for South Africa, Ramphele and Zille told us that the ANC could now no longer play the race card when trying to discredit the DA.

They were gushing in their praise of each other.

In subsequent interviews, Ramphele even likened her undemocratic behaviour to Nelson Mandela's visionary corralling of his ANC constituency during the pre-democracy negotiations.

To those who would have laughed off this hyperbole, she would have responded with the dismissive retort that they just simply “do not understand”.

But it is her and Zille who do not understand that South Africa saw the move for it what it was?–?a meaningless stunt.

Zille probably has a much greater chance of pulling black voters than Ramphele. She is a seasoned and sassy political player who, in the past five years, has managed to penetrate a black political market that had previously shunned her party.

While antipathy towards the DA is still very strong in most black communities, the party no longer meets outright hostility.

It now campaigns freely in black townships and its members are no longer fearful of wearing its attire in these areas.

On the other hand, Ramphele is an unknown political quantity.

Her party started with much promise, but her political amateurism and narcissism saw it move with the speed of a tortoise. With her as the sole face and voice of the party (an authoritarian one at that), Agang failed to progress.

Everything centred on her?– and this crippled the party.

The fact that she brings nothing to the DA is likely to be a major source of conflict in coming months. During the election campaign, watch out for headlines on her clashes with Zille and other party leaders over strategies and programmes.

After the election the fist-fight will be over the allocation of responsibilities in Parliament. The established party hierarchy will have its own ideas about how to tackle the ANC government and who should fill what positions in the shadow Cabinet. Ramphele will want to stamp her authority.

While Zille has managed to run the DA parliamentary caucus from the Western Cape premier’s office because of her relationship with Lindiwe Mazibuko, it will be a different story with Ramphele.

She will have to contend with someone who will be seeing her as an equal, if not her superior.

An ugly “two centres of power” battle will ensue as the party leader and parliamentary leader fight for supremacy.

Within the caucus, Ramphele will have to contend with MPs who are already resentful about her being parachuted in and who view her as someone with not much political acumen.

And then, like all Las Vegas marriages, there will be a quick but painful divorce.

»?Makhanya is editor at large

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