Why Mamphela Ramphele didn't join the DA

2013-11-15 09:48

In this extract from Mamphela Ramphele's new autobiography A Passion for Freedom (Tafelberg), she describes the thought process that led her not to join the DA, but to start her own party instead.

My decision to leap was not a spur of the moment decision but more a gradual shift in my thinking. There were times when I said yes, and then times when I thought, no, you’re not ready.

Since my return from the World Bank, Helen Zille had been trying to persuade me to join the Democratic Alliance. In the middle of 2012 I started talking seriously to the DA but I was wary of simply slipping into the position of leader of the DA, a position they were offering.

At first I thought the prize was an agreement with the DA on a way of transforming politics in South Africa, an idea which Helen Zille had already spoken about.

We came very close to attaining this position but in the end I felt the DA people failed to understand the extent to which the country needed to change. A prime example was the situation with Cape Town.

For seven years the DA had been running the city yet there were still squatter camps. I could not understand why. I believed that we were capable of more than accepting the inevitability of squatter camps.

Why did we accept the adage that the poor would always be with us? Was this not admitting defeat? Was this not saying that we were trapped in a mind-set that reflected the worst of apartheid and colonialism?

My book Conversations with My Sons and Daughters had gone through five prints in its publication year, 2012, and another reprinting in 2013. This told me something. There were a number of people interested in exploring alternatives that were not offered by the current political parties.

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.

With these comments foremost in my mind I went back to the DA. I did not believe that the English-speaking white supporters of the DA understood the inequities visited on the majority in the country and the consequences of their perpetuation for the quality of our democracy.

Some, including Hlumelo [Biko, Ramphele's son], would argue that the political settlement of 1993 allowed white privilege to remain unchallenged. Hlumelo calls it the ‘Great Fraud’ that let white people escape redressing the socio-economic consequences of apartheid. I felt the DA was complacent, trapped in their inability to realise that poverty could be eradicated.

Eventually my discussions with the DA reached a point where we agreed on the principles: most importantly, that the economy needed to be restructured. We agreed we needed to work together.

The DA was an established machine but it needed to be repositioned. And repositioning meant more than rebranding the DA. This problem would not be solved by my presence as leader of that party. My presence would not obliterate the misgivings of the majority of black people.

Take Malusi [Magele, Ramphele's son] as an example. He grew up playing with Helen Zille’s children. He was always welcome in their household. He did not doubt for a moment that Helen Zille was committed to a better South Africa. yet he told me that he would rather die than vote DA.

How often would this sentiment not be repeated across the country? So what would be achieved by my joining the DA or even joining a rebranded DA? Nothing.

Clearly what was needed was a new platform. If the DA were to be part of that platform they had to agree to undertaking a complete re-alignment of South African politics. It would involve the smaller parties, but it was more than simply a matter of absorbing them.

The DA were dismissive of the smaller parties – for good reason, as many of them were dying parties – but the element they did not understand was the power of symbolism. Just because a voter was disillusioned with Cope, for example, it did not mean that this person would believe in the DA.

A new initiative

I suggested that if we were to launch a new initiative that included the DA then I should do it alone. This way the DA would be seen as part of the initiative rather than the manipulating power behind a black figurehead.

If Helen Zille and I did it in tandem people would see the new initiative as the DA in drag and that would not solve the fundamental issue of a people’s psyche that had long been wounded by white racism.

They were afraid of white racism. Polling statistics showed that 60% of black people believed that if the DA won an election they would reinstitute apartheid. The DA dismissed this as nonsense but my experience was that this was what most people believed.

Either you denied those beliefs or you created an initiative that made those beliefs irrelevant.

We moved from this position to one where I would launch Agang and woo the smaller parties until they felt comfortable in the new party. After that the DA would join and we would then announce this powerful new party.

That was the theory, but there is a wide gap between theory and practice, especially in politics. It was not to be. However, Agang went ahead and approached the other parties.

While this strategy was important we realised our biggest opportunity lay in the disenchanted and the young. As I’ve mentioned, thirteen million did not vote in the 2009 election and since then a further five million young people had reached voting age.

The disenchanted and the disillusioned were everywhere. I had talked with them in areas around Cape Town, in Kwazulu-Natal, in Gauteng, in Limpopo. Wherever we had gone, we had sought out – and found many – who had been further marginalised over the last two decades.

Perhaps one of the most telling meetings I had was with a group of women living in the bush beside a squatter settlement in KZN. They had nothing, the told me. They had no hope. They were waiting for death. But you have children, I replied. What about your children?

They told me that they had to hire a taxi to get their children to a school many kilometres away. Often they did not have the taxi fare which meant the children missed school. They said their children’s safety when travelling was in the hands of God.

This conversation haunted me. I sensed that the mood among most poor people was despairing. There were some who still had hope but they were the minority.

When I launched Agang in February 2013, I said that I saw a great future for our country. One in which we finally realised true freedom for all. Freedom from poverty, crime and corruption. A job, a home, a life of dignity. I said that I was inspired by a passion for freedom and a burning ambition to aim higher.

To expect excellence in education, in healthcare, and in policing. To restore integrity to public life and pride to public service. To restore the trust between citizens and their leaders. When I said this I was many months away from meeting those women in the bush but I was talking about them, about returning them to the life of our nation.

What was most rewarding in the months that I toured the country talking about Agang and our vision was how groups of people that we had not even thought to approach came to us. We met with leaders of the Greek community, of the Chinese community, of the Indian community where, in Chatsworth, there was so much anger and despair.

We met with groups of farmers, groups of business people who called us to meetings they had arranged. I recall one such breakfast meeting in Kloof where some seventy business people had gathered.

These were middle-class people whose children were all in local private schools. Many of those children had been brought along to the breakfast. They were traditional DA voters but they no longer believed that the DA was equal to the tasks facing the country.

At the end of the meeting they told me that this was the first time that they had been given any hope that the country could change. The term they used was a flicker of hope. I realised it was Agang’s challenge to turn that flicker into a flame.

Extracted from A Passion for Freedom by Mamphela Ramphele (Tafelberg), available this month from

  • Frans Van Der Merwe - 2013-11-15 09:56

    Why is the squatter camps in Cape Town? t There is squatter camps all over SA where the ANC have ruled for more than 7 years. Being the leader of a small party is worthless as you can't exercise any leverage. I don't have a party that tick all of my boxes but vote for the one that tick most of my boxes. Good luck lady.

      OhbiZz Chabata - 2013-11-15 10:53

      This was my 1st real read about this Ramphele lady. I must say I am impressed. However it strikes me that her kids grew up playing at Zille's home! That speaks volumes about which class in society she falls. And I dont mean anything racial. Lots of white people would be out of their depth hanging out at someone like the DA leader's house. Now can such people really get to understand the hardships of indigent south Africans? I wonder...

      JoApe - 2013-11-15 12:47

      So never mind the fact that the DA has made the Western Cape the best run province in our country. Ramaphela is claiming that if there is even ONE squater's camp in the Western Cape, then she won't join the DA? With logic like that I'm not very impressed. She sould stay in her ivory tower and rather stick to her multi-million dollar BEE deals.

      Poloyatonki Kgosi - 2013-11-15 13:15

      Frans.. Bringing ANC into this wont help because she is talking about DA here so leave ANC out of this.

      JohnnyBetter - 2013-11-17 12:00

      @JoApe, I came as far as the squatter camp issue, then I stopped. I honestly thought that Mamhephela had a better understanding of finances in the broader spectrum. The DA gets but a fraction of what is needed and it is also late in receiving payment from the cANCer. Shame on her.

      Jon Low - 2013-11-17 15:33

      You can't just magic away two million jobless, unskilled, unemployable people who -- for their own reasons -- CHOOSE to leave their places of childhood to flock to the fully-employed Western Cape. If you could give them all jobs and good housing, the rest of the country's millions of squatters would immediately make a beeline for this miracle Shangri-La where nobody needs to be a jobless squatter. And, voila, you'd once again instantly have vast squatter camps -- as there are right now. This isn't rocket-science, Mamphela. And you can't change this sad situation with whatever YOU might have as a practical plan. Your "plan", if you have one at all, would likely be even more ludicrous than Claudia Meads's long, barking-mad, hopelessly-impractical wish-list given above. (Goodness me! Return a party that no longer exists to power 20 years later -- and expect none other than the United Nations to assist to revive apartheid? The same UN who booted the Nat regime out of their General Assembly and who officially declared apartheid a crime against humanity? )

      Luzuko Mtoyi - 2014-01-28 15:08

      @Kenny, there is something called C.O.M.P.R.E.H.E.N.S.I.O.N. You are reading, but it seems comprehension escapes you. Mamphela is talking about squatter camps in relativity to the Western Cape's economy and affluence. She is not blaming, but trying to make a point....that the DA should have led by example if they have to convince Black why they should ditch the ANC. In essence, she is saying: ACTIONS will speak louder once Black people can see what the DA has done in their lives! Now, read for understanding, please

      Linds Ron-House - 2014-01-28 15:51

      @Frans, you ask why there are a squatter camps in Cape Town. But you fail to answer your very own question. Instead you point to the ANC, which doesn't even begin to answer the question. If the DA is as better than the ANC as people say, then why there are still squatter camps after 7 years? That's the question. Forget about the ANC.

      Linds Ron-House - 2014-01-28 16:05

      @Johny, provinces receive budget based on population size. The Western Cape is the second largest province after Gauteng and therefore receives the second largest budget. Let me tell the rest of the people an important fact - when the ANC came into power in 1994 there was a shortage of 1.8 million houses. To date close to 4 million have been built. In other words, the government has exceeded the target by far. But the target keeps moving due to urbanization, immigration and population growth. We do some charity work in Olievenhoutbosch between Pretoria and Joburg, and I can attest to the fact that in the early 2000s it was nothing but shacks. Those shacks were completely eradicated. In addition to that, there is now a clinic, police station, community hall, tarred roads, pavements with street lights, several schools, sports centre, recreational parks, etc. All these were built in the past 10 years. When people see such progress, they move in from other areas (especially rural) and start building shacks again. I now see new shacks being built in open spaces. In short, government is a victim of its own success.

      Magda_Kus - 2014-01-28 17:43

      Judging by comments from both sides... the article made some challenging reading.

  • EkasiBoy - 2013-11-15 10:04

    It must be a great read indeed!!

  • Piet Pompies - 2013-11-15 10:18

    ... mmmm,... You my dear sound " too white" for the masses, wether you join DA or DA joins you does not really matter... The masses simply believe whoever promises them the most,... They have nothing to loose, ! you would be better using your money to educate some young black kids in the hope that they can one day scrounge a living in next/newest failed state...

      Kgaugelo Stanleigh Mashaba - 2013-11-15 11:41


      Viwe Mfaku - 2013-11-15 12:44

      i doubt its a matter of who promises the most, but rather who stands for the things that matter for the people and how they as a party have designated some meaning beyond the past or against it, whether black or white ruled the party must resonate and speak with the people in mind and not to them.

  • Yanga Yvandal Makaluza - 2013-11-15 10:25

    Time for change

      Piet Pompies - 2013-11-15 10:51

      ..too late,. The dictators are in...

      Luzuko Mtoyi - 2014-01-28 15:11

      @Piet, that is a defeatist attitude.

  • Gordon5100 - 2013-11-15 10:56

    Usual African blame game. Why should DA run Cape Town be different from anywhere else? If the Eastern Cape refugees stopped pouring in every week by the 1000's then maybes the Whites and Coloureds could do something about these squatter camps. Hey Ramphele, go and see Diepsloot and the 100's of other squatter camps in your ANC ran cities. Typical hypocrite.

      Willem Haarhoff - 2013-11-15 12:56

      i think you're missing the point she was making

      Xhanti Gatyeni - 2013-11-17 12:37

      I think you're incredibly dim! This article is about why she didn't join the DA. Not about why she didn't join the DA OR ANC. And the ANC has failed dismally; not worth a mention anyways...

      Mavis Rubushe - 2014-01-06 16:42

      Gordon, western cape is not for whites and coloureds. Actually, i don't even think you are a south african!

      Luzuko Mtoyi - 2014-01-28 15:13

      @Gordon, you are beyond redemption! And you are over-emphasizing your Whiteness.... There are people like Raymond Ackerman ( Pick N Pay) etc who have meaning in this country. Those are the White people, I think that DO matter... First thing, you need to get your Matric and then come back and debate

  • James Smythe - 2013-11-15 11:00

    The DA in Cape Province spends the majority of it's budget on the poor trying to uplift living conditions. The task is made impossible by the frequent destruction of expensive municipal infrastucture in protests and through simple, spiteful vandalism, and the fact that people are arriving in the Cape all the time from other parts of the country - they are voting with their feet, against the ANC-run municipalities where they have lived. This means there is a never-ending flood of new people needing housing etc etc! But the budget remains much the same - an impossible situation! Mamphele actually did the DA a favour by not joining the DA - she talks up a storm and writes what many want to hear, but in fact she has failed in every job she has had including the World Bank and would have continued to fail as she will with Agang.

  • ruffieb - 2013-11-15 11:19

    I like the lady and wish her well, although I do not think that she will reap more then 2-3% of the SA votes. What is wonderful about Dr. Ramphele, is that here is a " Black Voice" speaking the truth i.e. that under the ANC the standard of education has declined enormously (SA now comes in at the 147th out of 150 countries and that policing in this country is a tragic sick joke. She is an honest voice amongst a sea of ANC lies.

  • Lee De Marco - 2013-11-15 11:25

    There is so much truth here - I know a lot of white people don't understand, but the majority of non-whites are looking for leaders who fully grasp the realities of the world we live in. I don't believe you need to be poor and black to understand, but we are faced with a "good vs better vs best" situation. The ANC is good, the DA is better - but both parties face serious challenges for different reasons. Agang seems to be the best, as they cross the divide between the two.

      Tersia Louw - 2013-11-15 12:58

      Lee - Agang may be able to cross the divide. As Dr Ramphele was instrumental in writing the DA's manifesto, chances are good that Agang, DA and Cope can form a coalition as and when needed; now THAT is the best situation.

      Jon Low - 2013-11-17 15:41

      In any coalition, the party with the most support will make up the proportional bulk of the coalition and that party's leader will be the coalition leader. If DA draws 25% of the national vote while Cope and Agang only pull about 2% each, there is no way that Ramphele or Lekota could democratically expect to be anywhere near the leader's chair of such a coalition.

  • drsparky - 2013-11-15 11:27

    "the political settlement of 1993 allowed white privilege to remain unchallenged. Hlumelo calls it the ‘Great Fraud’ that let white people escape redressing the socio-economic consequences of apartheid." I still don't know what they want from me? Do they want to take my house (what happens to the bond?) Do I need to pay "white" tax? Do they want my job - or just the money, while I work for free? Do they want all my pension money and savings? I still don't know. Can a big-shot previously-disadvantaged please enlighten me? I feel so unwelcome - an enigma of the past - not really belonging here... not because I don't want to be here. I am hated by the majority, because of my culture, my upbringing and what my ancestors did and they still don't know what to do with me. Can you please decide and let me know?

      Marnus Nolte - 2013-11-22 09:31

      The sounds of silence (ie. no response the this comment) would indicate that no-one of reasonable intelligence is available to answer the questions that seemingly most white youths are asking! I can't give you more than I have! It's not my fault I'm an afrikaans white guy whose ancestors founded the regime that was classified "crime against humanity"! My parents and grandparents were in the ANC when they were working together to take power for the first time and help "make a better SA" (once the ANC got power my parents soon realized it wasn't all they had been promised and were forced out) but I am seen as a racist before any "black" person even talks to me and listens to my story! What am I meant to do? Who should I vote for? Seems like an eternal catch 22!

  • Kgaugelo Stanleigh Mashaba - 2013-11-15 11:34


      Tersia Louw - 2013-11-17 13:09

      How will reading up on her brother tell us who she is? That's like saying if you want to know about Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, read up on his son. Poor logic, Kgaugelo.

  • Agnes Matseke - 2013-11-15 11:43

    I wish people can try this new party and forget about what ANC has done OR will do... vote for a new party AGANG or DA becuase our contry needs some CHANGE. if anc win again we are going be the next zimbabwe.

      Simon Ramapuputla - 2013-11-15 12:24

      I think Chief Dalindlebo staff that is feeding to the DA is making you talk troll. We won Vote for the new parties. ANC lives for ever

  • Ernest Msukwa - 2013-11-15 12:09

    while parties all over the world have different ideologies,issues to do with poverty need to be priority.Every party must devise ways of reducing the poverty of its people.Let all parties work together to fight poverty through National Development Plans of each respective country.The extract from Ramphele writing is great,cant wait any longer for the entire Book

      Jon Low - 2013-11-17 15:45

      The only way to reduce poverty is to increase employment and, at the same time, decrease the birth rate so that a single income does not have to feed so many mouths.

  • Nana Marang - 2013-11-15 12:29

    Dr Ramphele, has my vote.

  • Danny Mothilall Danny - 2013-11-15 12:34

    Sorry Mamphela - it seems that you have missed the mark.Just imagine what can you do when you are not in the position of controlling the budget. The fat cats who controlled the budget were busy lining their own pockets, least to say that when budget was allocated it was only going to the chosen provinces-so yes there should not be any squatter camps provided that Cape Town municipality was allotted a proper budget for the housing infrastructure.In any case ,to form a majority-you need people and these people must have confidence in you and I think that a coalition is the right way to go. provinces

  • Ohentse Toto - 2013-11-15 13:17

    So, does this mean Agang is also out there to get DA Africans' support, to be swallowed and the leader receive a city mayor position as a reward, DA has really up'd the standard.

  • Babara Nieuwoudt - 2013-11-15 15:31

    I wish all politicians can have the spirit of Ubuntu.

  • Brandon Platt - 2013-11-17 10:50

    What an idiot this woman is "For seven years the DA had been running the city yet there were still squatter camps. I could not understand why. I believed that we were capable of more than accepting the inevitability of squatter camps." There are squatter camps everywhere, not only in the Western Cape

      Jon Low - 2013-11-17 15:46

      Dare she reveal her own magic plan to eradicate squatter camps?

      Motlalepula Matshwe - 2014-01-10 18:46

      Dr Ramphele is saying all this nice words but never mentions how is she going to achieve all that and how long is it going to take her to achieve all that. Either she is very naive for a politician or she is a damn good liar.

  • Solomon Laplace - 2013-11-17 11:46

    "People failed to understand the extent to which the country needed to change" This statement convinces that she is up to the task. You have y vote

      Jon Low - 2013-11-17 15:47

      Those worlds are nothing more than a meaningless, hollow slogan. Change? From what, to what? How?

      Abram Mothothi Mamabolo - 2014-01-28 14:29

      they are using her to bring black voters

  • Chad Rayner - 2013-11-17 15:14

    Theres an awful lot of colour being mentioned in these comments. If you understand that as soon as you can forget about using colour as a way of representing a group of people the sooner we will overcome our biggest problem.

  • Jon Low - 2013-11-17 15:17

    What an enormous, overweening ego this Dr Ramphele has got! Well, she'll find out just how little clout she has when her policyless little Gang gets humiliated at the polls in 2014.

      Motlalepula Matshwe - 2014-01-10 18:41

      Couldn't agree with you more, Dr Mamphela live in dream land.

  • Riana Johnson - 2013-11-17 16:52

    I believe that one cannot leave the ANC out of any discussion on squatter camps. After almost 20 years the squatter camps are still with us all over the country. No matter how many houses get built, unless the corruption with tenderpreneurs is sorted out, the process is not sustainable. And once people have houses they need jobs to keep them up and running - so what we really need is MORE JOBS. Oh and everyone ignores this obvious fact; more black people belong to the DA than white people belonging to the ANC. Now tell me which is the multi-racial party?

  • Nicola Rushin nee Davis - 2013-11-17 19:07

    Ramphele has my vote!

  • Danie Nel - 2013-11-17 23:27

    I hear what you say. My dear lady....there is no way in the world that poverty will disapear. Not in South Africa, and not in any country in the world. You are living a dream.

      Lebohang Letsoisa - 2014-01-28 16:01

      @Daniel agreed, "POVERTY is not an individual’s choice. It is a systematic, structural framework against a group. Social management for a blue collar reservoir." -Fanon

  • Poqo Azania - 2013-11-18 07:48

    There you go White people, the truth finally comes out... Dr Ramphele you are telling the honest truth, you are the son of the soil who has been subscribing to Black Conciousness ideologies (Bantu Biko). The Devil Alliance is like Cancer that is preying on cells and spreading to the whole body. White people think that we are fools, even if all of them can vote for the Devil Alliance, they wont make it. So, they got Mmusi and Lindiwe as their deco for the joy ride. How stupid and opportunistic.... Grandchildren of the Verwoerd... No wonder Prof Robert Sobukwe had a problem with these ever complaining nation....

      Mbali Lihle Mbatha Ngcobo - 2014-01-29 08:16

      Don't u feel betrayed Poqo?

      Gregory Cooper - 2014-01-29 08:39

      she knows what she is doing, she is no-ones puppet, and reading the extract leads me to believe she works for the good of the people. da is a better stepping stone for her to complete what needs to be done in an ethical manner. politics is a tactical game, and once everyone has a couple sleeps, its all going to feel better . . .

  • Tshepo Ntoane - 2013-11-18 12:02

    More than happy to give the good Dr my first vote! #BornFree

      Lebohang Letsoisa - 2014-01-28 16:02

      more like #BornNaive

  • Peter Philips - 2013-11-18 12:19

    A highly intelligent lady. I have to agree with her on many points.

  • TheDon Segatlaka - 2013-12-03 03:33

    AgangSA is the FUTURE.DR Ramphele is what we need to restore the Promises of freedom.

  • Masilo Mahlo - 2014-01-28 14:14


  • Luzuko Mtoyi - 2014-01-28 15:04

    Squatter camps are as old as the hills! The only way, we will get rid of squatter camps is if the rural areas ( especially the EC) can be developed. Once there are schools that are as good as the WC & Gauteng's schools, Clinics, job opportunities, Universities etc, then we can talk of getting rid of squatter camps. I think the issue of growing the economy on itself is overstated, we ned to grow the economy EQUITTABLE ( i.e. the EC's infrastructure, Limpopo's infrastructure etc need priority). Once the infrastructure is in place, investment can flow.... DA/Agang, seem to miss this as much as the ANC has missed this in 20 years. Black people that are in Capetown spend millions 'trekking back' and forth between Capetown & EC. Millions that, if they were not spent on transport, could have built mansions, worth millions in the EC. I am not against this 'trekking' but,it is quite a wasteful expenditure....

  • Mongezi Malakwane - 2014-01-28 18:30

    What a confused, if not hallucinating, Doctor!! I never thought education would make people this dumb to contradict themselves in public!!!! Mamphele, also tell us why you only spent one term at the world bank?

      Gregory Cooper - 2014-01-29 08:43

      its free will mate, she does what she believes to be right, her goal is to climb on top of the hill, and only then can she do what needs to be done . . . she cleverly chooses the shortest pathway.

  • Khethi Ngwenya - 2014-01-28 21:10

    Today different story

  • Doret Venter - 2014-01-29 08:50

    After reading this article, I would like to know what made her change her mind to now be the DA's Presidential Candidate?????

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