It’s politics, not a sewing circle

2013-11-10 14:00

Comedian Trevor Noah has this joke in his latest show.

It is about the political innocence, some would say naivety, of Mamphela Ramphele.

The Agang?SA leader opens up her finances to the public and reveals she is worth R55?million. She then challenges President Jacob Zuma and other political leaders to do the same. But instead of joining in, the public says: “Yoh, R55?million! Where did you did get R55?million?”

She tries to shift the attention to Zuma. “Ask Jacob how much he has and where he got it from.”

But the people don’t get her. “We know Jacob has lots of money and he stole it from us. But, wena, where did you get R55?million?”

The joke paints a great picture of the naivety that has led to Agang fizzling out long before it faces its first real contest.

When Ramphele announced on Constitution Hill in February that she would be establishing a “political platform”, there was much speculation about whether her entry into politics would be the game-changer that South Africa’s rigid political alignment needed.

After the disaster of Cope and the feeling that the DA had just about reached its ceiling, something else needed to happen to shake things up.

Her speech, delivered at the temple of constitutionalism, was inspirational, promising to rekindle the dream of 1994.

She said: “I have never been a member of a political party nor aspired to political office. I, however, feel called to lead the efforts of many South Africans who increasingly fear that we are missing too many opportunities to become that which we have the potential to become?–?a great society.”

For some months, there had been a buzz in the air as she crisscrossed the country selling her vision of restoring constitutional values and creating an accountable government. But then the naivety began to show.

When the decision was made to turn the platform into a political party, questions were asked about whether there would be other heavyweights who would accompany her on this journey.

It turned out she had no such ideas.

Instead, she spoke about creating a new generation of politicians who would be drawn from the ranks of professionals, community activists and other sectors untainted by politics.

This generation would have nothing but the national interest at heart. Those who would join from other parties would be carefully screened so they would not contaminate her pristine home.

Ramphele was also very clear about not inheriting survivors from the Cope disater, although there were many itchy activists from the party looking for a political home.

How would she view a Mosiuoa Lekota or an Mbhazima Shilowa coming on board? “Forget about it”, was her attitude.

When conspiracy theorists in the ANC alliance tried to taint Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi by spreading rumours that he was to join Agang, Ramphele said she would not touch him with a bargepole.

And so she sailed on, captaining a ship of politically inexperienced sailors. Sooner or later, the ship was bound to get lost on the high seas with not even the captain knowing how to steer it in the right direction.

The public grew tired of her voice and the same message.

The media, with its surfeit of material in news-rich South Africa, moved on and her newspaper space shrunk at a rapid rate.

Then along came Julius Malema and his red-beret army. The raw politics of the EFF struck a chord with politicised and apathetic citizens.

It injected new excitement into the political space. It was loud, brash, colourful and did not call spades garden implements.

To some, it was scary. To others, it offered the illusion of hope. For the media, it provided priceless soundbites and dramatic images.

Although the EFF is led by a powerful and charismatic individual, it has many voices and faces.

If Malema is not blustering, one of his lieutenants is shooting his mouth off.

The EFF’s leaders are people who have been battered and bruised in the politics of the ANC and civil-society activism.

They are on the streets doing things that keep them top of mind.

After calculating that the highbrow, one-woman band called Agang?SA would make only a minor dent in its support base, the ANC has been taking the EFF threat seriously.

If Agang is to be a factor in next year’s election, Ramphele and her coterie of technocrats will have to fast realise that this game they have entered into is called politics.

It is not sewing or knitting, not bowls?–?and certainly not a graceful ballet.

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