50 Shades of Politics: The Grey on a Platform

2013-02-19 04:46

After weeks of finely tuned speculation, 50 Shades of Politics was unveiled yesterday morning on Constitutional Hill. ‘Not entirely political – but almost-political’ reads the description of this tale. We’re caught in the grey zone and the shades aren’t revealing much. The story is waiting to unfold it seems.

One thing is certain though - the protagonist is daring and self-assured. That’s seems to be the only thing we know.  Are the shades enough to outline the fuller image? Or are the allusions of the ‘political-something’ enough to tell us that this is a tragedy waiting to unfold?

The Rebirth of Rainbow Politics

Ambiguity is fast becoming a national fad.  Ask any politician what they stand for; and a host of trite words and phrases will be dished out. Depending on who you ask, you might get ideological-speak masked as an intelligible response. South Africans know this well.

Dr Mamphela Ramphele joined the chorus of this double-speak and ambiguity yesterday on Constitutional Hill.  Asked what the identity of her new party political platform would be - her response: ‘... a common and shared South Africanism’. While this might have evoked a kumbaya-moment to some, it reveals a deeper problem with Ramphele’s thinking.

This thinking isn’t new. Instead, it is the same idealism which informs the hackneyed idea of a rainbow nation. This time, a different voice in the form of Ramphele makes the noise. But this noise isn’t meaningful. Mamphela (in the same interview on Talk Radio 702 last night) makes the bizarre claim that race-based interventions are pedestrian.

According to Dr Ramphele, we need more creative ways to deal with racial inequality. It gets exciting – ‘...young South Africans should not burden themselves with identifying themselves as black or white’ - she continues.

For Mamphela, race is an element that needs to be transcended.

Regardless of what your view is, here’s the point – the litmus test for any South African leader is how they deal, speak and react to race as a sociological construct. This may be a hard-pill to swallow for some, but it’s real.

If we had to be candid about this, Ramphele’s approach to race is ahistoric. It represents the view that race shouldn’t be used to address socio-economic inequality. In her words, ‘we need more creative ways’. Granted, race-talk can be tiring for some, but if Ramphele is hell-bent on ‘rekindling the South African dream’ she needs to come to the table with something new, or simply admit that no matter how uncomfortable – race-based interventions are often an accurate measure of disadvantage. Denying this is pure sophistry.

Mamphela has failed the litmus-test. Her ahistoric approach to the manoeuvrings of race in our socio-economic landscape tells us that she just doesn’t get it. Already she fails, so early in the game.

Shades of Grey

For what it’s worth, it takes great courage for anyone to put themselves out there like Ramphele did. Few people will ever make a decision she took.

However, you need more than courage to make it in politics.  Clarity of purpose also comes in handy if you intend on being significant game-changer. Mamphela’s party political platform is a half-baked potato waiting to be peeled.

The idea that this ‘platform’ will largely be a consultative forum is a half-truth. The other truth is that Ramphele realizes that she has no real support in South Africa. Sure there have been a number of South Africans who have commended her on this (great) move. But the truth is – good wishes are just not the same as support.  Neither are the 1600 people who signed up to be ‘volunteers’ yesterday indicative of any real support.

So what exactly is the decision to support a political party based on?  Well, structure and identity are two good measures. The structure as it is right now is caught between an ‘almost political party’ and a ‘consultative forum’. Mamphela’s idea is to consult with as many South Africans as possible with the view of contesting in the 2014 elections. For this she gets a silver star.

But make no mistake; the idea behind the ‘platform’ is not an honest one. Mamphela might just be sceptical of her own efforts for all we know.

Lessons from Cope’s Fall from Grace teach us that political parties are easy to start but difficult to keep intact. Even more difficult, when you do not have real support and a sense of political identity.

Unfortunately, Mamphela has neither. All she has is the platform. The ‘platform’ is her only hope in the quest to build support and create a sense of legitimacy.  It will create the semblance of a consultative process which many South Africans yearn for. It will position her as the consultative-leader of sorts. One who sought the counsel of the nation before she proceeded with her political ambitions?

Smart, right?

This right here is almost-brilliant strategy. The only problem though is that irrespective of what the outcome is, Ramphele has made up her mind – she is going to rock the political boat. Here we encounter a sad battle between appearance versus reality. Reality wins. We quickly learn that she isn’t the real leader she purports to be.

Time will tell if this platform gives way for something more substantial than yesterday’s announcement.

For now, South Africans need to guard against a slack consciousness. A consciousness that assumes that one individual can play the Messiah and rid our body-politic of it’s challenges. South Africa’s quandary lies in it’s broken communities. Here the people – not big figures – have lost a sense of purpose in our fledgling democracy.

We slack daily - waiting for more protagonists to emerge from the horizon. When the silhouette clears and they are naked before us, we realize that they bring no special gifts.

Our consciousness continues sag. No longer can we tell the difference between that which is real and that which is dressed as real - but yet empty. More wily protagonists will continue to write our tale in greyscale. They will create platforms for us, co-opt us into them and lead us straight into the grey – at least not the dark, yet.

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