Dashiki Dialogues: Simply slipping in and out of the truth

2014-02-04 10:00

It was a political game of ­mutation, marriage or mirage that went up in a swirl last week. DA leader Helen Zille and Mamphela Ramphele of Agang SA sealed a precarious union involving the latter standing as the DA’s presidential candidate for the upcoming general election.

The announced partnership, or nonmerger, as it were, along with some of the sordid responses it inspired, exposed some fault lines in the nature of our politics. There was much mudslinging bordering on misogyny. I won’t honour that gutter agenda here, but the debate had me wondering the same way writer­ activist Arundhati Roy did about similar events in India, where she lives.

I wondered if there was life after democracy.

By democracy, Roy doesn’t mean the aspirational or ideal. She speaks of the concept’s Western-working model. The question does not serve to suggest a lapse into older, ­discredited totalitarian models of governance.

Roy suggests that our system of governance – representative democracy – has devolved into too much representation devoid of real people-centred power principle, and is in need of a structural overhaul.

Part of her observation is a view that in representative democracies, once leaders are conferred some legitimacy by the people, these representatives are free to change their minds and break their promises. The ANC’s break with the Freedom Charter’s take on the land issue is one example.

I watched Ramphele shape-shifting and remembered what she told us in her recent book, A Passion for Freedom: “Since my return from the World Bank, Helen Zille had been trying to persuade me to join the DA, but I was wary of simply slipping into the position of leader of the DA, a position they were offering.

“As I met with young people, I heard a refrain: we want to take up the challenge confronting us, we want to be more active and engaged, but we do not have the platform. We will not vote for the ANC because of their corrupt, autocratic ways, nor will we vote for the DA because we know they do not understand the transformational challenges facing the country.”

Now, barely a few months since she wrote this, she has indeed simply slipped into a leadership position at the DA.

As this transpired, I listened to a variety of callers on a popular radio talk show complaining about what they called a “betrayal of their dreams” by Ramphele.

They were expecting she would help them build their party, a new platform to explore their democratic access to political participation.

Our dialogue and experiment with democracy desperately needs a new dashiki.

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