Ramphele & Madiba: Thou shalt not...

2014-01-29 08:25

One expects more from Agang leader Mamphela Ramphele than to abuse Madiba’s name - not unless, as we say in South African English, we were mistaken by the extent to which political ambition can change a person’s character.

In trying to justify her deal with the DA to become their “presidential candidate” – without consulting Agang members – Ramphele cites the example of how Madiba negotiated with the National Party without consulting with the people of South Africa first.

(But Madiba, at least, let his close comrades on Robben Island in on it – although he overruled them when the majority voiced their opposition, as is illustrated in the recently released movie Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom. In similar fashion, he would later also “lead” opposing ANC members into accepting the Springbok as the national rugby emblem.)

Quite correctly, Ramphele emphasises that leaders need to have the ability to make decisions - in other words to take the lead, and then to win buy-in from their followers afterwards. But there is a critical point that she omits in her Madiba analogy; that is the fact that Madiba’s decisions was not based on self-interest, or to benefit him personally, but to advance the interest of the entire nation.

To make it even clearer: Our late former President did not negotiate with the NP for him to be released before his fellow inmates, such as Sisulu and Mbeki and Kathrada, or for him to become the country’s first democratically elected president. He negotiated terms for multi-party negotiations, terms for the release of all political prisoners from all parties, and so on. Can anyone spot the difference?

In Ramphele’s case it is all about herself. And how quick she was to point out to a radio presenter this morning that she never had to “bargain” with the DA for the position. “The DA offered me a leadership position long ago,” she said. That is the truth, but only half of it.

Fact is, Ramphele was offered a position by the DA as part of a deal of her becoming part of the party - as opposed to starting her own. Conversely, she wanted the DA to dissolve into a new political formation, but the party of Helen Zille was not up for it. Then we saw the birth of Agang ... that seemingly attracted the support of particularly young black and middle class voters, much as Ramphele tried to appeal to rural gogos, too.

In African culture one is taught never to question the elders, so forgive me for flouting the laws of culture, but there is another distinction between Madiba and Ramphele. In Madiba’s case, his struggle credentials speak for itself; in Ramphele’s case we are constantly reminded about it in order to boost her credibility.

Again, Madiba used his struggle credentials to negotiate the best deal for, as we say, the all of us. Ramphele and Zille used hers to justify her accepting an offer from the DA without consulting her own party first.

Strangely, Ramphele has been very vocal in criticising the ANC and government for its behaviour, for putting itself above the masses of the people. That must have hit a note with those who decided to join Agang – about 200 000, she says. But can she really continue to claim the moral high ground, on the level set by Madiba, after yesterday’s surprise announcement?

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