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A letter to Mamphela Ramphele

I have a friend and she is one of those annoyingly smart people. She always says the right thing, knows the right thing and does the right thing. She has learnt to be very sure of her own opinion and nobody likes her. Not even me. What has this got to do with you? Nothing, I just wanted to share a story.

In South Africa there are two political parties: there is the ANC and the rest. If the ANC is Nkandla, then other parties are the cantankerous tuckshop caretaker under MaKhumalo’s employ. They spend all day complaining about the ANC yet they base their very existence on the ANC. Their sole task is to approve or disapprove of ANC policies and actions.

There are also two kinds of politicians: those criticising the ANC and those defending it. Ultimately it is all about the ANC. The rhetoric about the poor, about development and governance is just that … rhetoric. The people are only spectators and pawns in a political game, just spectators. This is where you come in.

A lot has been written about your “platform”. Most of the commentary is naysaying and pessimistic. Even those supposedly optimistic about your platform are ”cautiously optimistic”.

I on the other hand think you are just remarkable! You are an efficacious businesswoman, you have struggle credentials, you did amazing work with Steve Biko on the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), you’ve have held a high position at the World Bank, you were the principal of the best ranked university in SA. You are our very own Superwoman.

That said, your personal character cannot be the basis for a political party. Creating a political party means abandoning your activist’s costume for a harder, heavier, hotter, politician’s costume. More importantly, we can no longer afford political parties that are based on a single person’s legacy. We are through with demigods. Here is my appeal to you.

Firstly do not make the mistake of becoming a leader. South Africa does not need “leaders”, it needs “representatives”. Leaders want power and their mistakes are fast costing us our had-earned freedom. Representatives on the other hand have authority and they work with the people to build a better, stronger, progressive nation.

There is a gap and it is your niche. Politicians misinterpret the concept of “representative democracy”: representing the people. Government policy should never be determined by party membership. The recent to and fro between the state and society on the ”secrecy Bill” and the violent protest against a municipal merger are prime examples of the difference between leaders and representatives.

How do you represent a country of 50 million people? You must listen. Embrace truly the model of a mass movement. The people know how they want their country to be run and how they want their government to function. Give the ignored in society a voice. There are millions of them. Fill up community halls and stadia, but not to talk, just to listen. You have some experience from the BCM.

Secondly, actively avoid partisanship. The biggest mistake you can make is to join MaKhumalo’s spaza shop! The biggest mistake you can make is to join the clutter of inaudible voices hollering at the demigod employer.

AgangSA must not be based on ANC fault lines. Irrespective of the ANC’s embarrassing failures, it remains a hero to our people. Many people associate the ANC with liberation. They then disassociate the pluck and filth in Luthuli House from the ANC. The ANC is, in the eyes of the people, a sacred entity separate from its fallible leadership. When you take on the ANC, you are challenging not just the organisation, you are challenging the legacy of the liberation movement. Not even you are up to that task. Leave the critiquing to the DA, the media, Zapiro and the million other voices.

You have said that it is very difficult to criticise the government without referencing the ANC. This is true but you can transform criticism into identifiable problems. Here is an example, you can replace the phrase “the ANC has failed to deliver adequate housing to the poor” with the phrase “the people are homeless and destitute”, then offer a creative solution. Give the people what they need, appeal to their sense of self-preservation.

Lastly be frank in your approach to the question of race and empowerment. It is widely rumoured that your first attempt was to absorb and de-racialise the DA, to create a colourless party. A racially-neutral approach is indeed tempting but to avoid race entirely is dishonest and lazy.

When all social, political and economic trends are determined by the legacy of apartheid, we must ask the hard questions and give hard answers.

Frankly your “South African consciousness” approach is wrong. We cannot begin with South African consciousness until the black consciousness project is complete. To abandon black consciousness means accepting social, political and economic trends that are skewed unfairly in favour of whites. We can address the social and psychological legacy without upsetting national unity.

Your platform-soon-to-be-a-political party offers hope. It offers new opportunities and fresh beginnings. Do not play with the country’s emotions by making the mistakes of those who have gone before you.

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