Black power is long dead. If Mamphela Ramphele and black consciousness meant anything, that dream has been dissolved into the DA. The most recent example of this assimilation: Ramphele joining the DA. While watching the images of hugs and what was described by Ramphele as “the moment of greatness”, I was torn. Is this really a great moment or another example of assimilation?
Assimilation in the sense that yet another black face is giving in to the power of white supremacy. But surely Ramphele is not just another black face, she’s Dr Ramphele: she has struggle and intellectual credentials. And the DA can hardly be seen as a white supremacist organisation because the face of the DA has changed thanks to the Western Cape. The sudden death of Agang and Ramphele’s acceptance of the DA’s offer as a presidential candidate made me consider this move on the level of what this might mean when we’re looking at the images. Ramphele has played into the hands of history and has come to represent the chosen, “magical negress” that is being hand-picked by the white master — in this case the DA. The birth of Agang was somewhat promising. At least it gave South Africa another image of what can happen in politics: that a black woman can dare to take on the ANC and the DA after all her efforts in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). But months later this image is destroyed because power and politics have taken over a vision. The vision that Ramphele embodied was one that was proud of representing all the faces of South Africa: a former PAC member, former ANC members and those involved in the BCM. But one must ask, what changed when Patricia de Lille joined the DA? Exhibit A: Cape Town.
The “magical negress” is quite a picture to behold. Ramphele is the exceptional black who has mastered the code of middle-class discourse embodied in the DA. It is quite something to be courted by a political party such as the DA and give in to the seduction (even after it bungled its standpoint on employment equity). The DA already has a history of seeking representation in faces such as Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mmusi Maimane, Mbali Ntuli. But Zille would have us believe that there’s no tokenism in the DA. The black faces in the DA are there fair and square. Such comments reveal the anxiety in the DA. Making a black woman the presidential candidate means there’s been a calculated process of finding “talent” and Ramphele is part of that “talent”. On the one hand Zille would have us believe that hers is a party of the future but on the other she refers to the black people in her party as “talent” and recognises that the attack for tokenism is around the corner so she might as well beat the critics to it. So now we know that the black faces in the DA are part of a project “DA’s got talent”: The DA project of representation and the politics comes thereafter.
Behind the hugs and the celebrations within the DA, anyone who had a hope for a fraction of an opposition can forget about it. Is Ramphele bringing anything new to the DA beyond being what the DA has longed for: a black face next to the DA logo on the ballot paper? There’s seems to be little being said about what Agang brings to the table. Agang didn’t even make it to the elections before merging. What else can it bring except some volunteers? What else could have Ramphele have done? Continue with her small party and wait to be disappointed at the polls? That’s too risky in the world of politics. In order to disrupt history this marriage has to last beyond these elections.
Sadly, we will never hear about Agang SA ever again. No matter the outcome, the fruit of this coalition (or is it a merger) will not be felt this year. It’s too ambitious, too sudden, too shrouded in the politics of representation (the madam and her entourage). Zille hopes the face on the ballot paper will be Ramphele because this matters; the black face still matters when the politics of representation are central to a political party’s growth.