By Judy Sikuza
As folklore will tell you, arranged marriages have always been a contentious matter — whether you are for the idea or against it. But politically, this old concept of an arranged marriage may have some fascinating consequences for the political landscape of South Africa 20 years into democracy. What is one supposed to do if the love of your life never shows up? You’ve tried internet dating (ie social-media mobilisation) you’ve tried blind dates (ie community meetings), and you’ve even tried writing love letters (ie Conversations with my sons and daughters). But alas, you still have had no luck in finding true love. Can one therefore be judged for making a pragmatic decision and entering into an arranged marriage that will hopefully lead to some form of love?
After the announcement of the DA-Agang merger, critics were quick to get on the bandwagon on how Mamphela Ramphele was injudicious to have started her own political party given that Helen Zille had been approaching her to join the DA for years. This merger, the critics declare, may leave bad sentiments among some voters regarding Ramphele’s incapacity to run the party she launched and jumping ship on the 11th hour. In my opinion these sentiments have some veracity, which I agree with, but miss the significant “game-changing move” that this merger raises.
By joining the DA, Ramphele has recognised and accepted that her vision for herself and the future of South Africa would not be fully realised if she remained purely in the Agang structures. Many leaders would have remained steadfast in their pride and not made this bold move to concede. I applaud her braveness for admitting to have failed on her own, and taking the courageous step towards the arranged marriage. For a leader in Africa to not hold on to their own empire at whatever cost — is a game-changing move indeed.
The move to merge with the DA obviously has personal benefits for Ramphele, as it should, since no human can be completely altruistic. She is now guaranteed a seat in Parliament and has the organisational structures to push forward the vision she has for the South Africa she has been touting in her books, campaign speeches and interviews. But the move also marries together two constituencies that collectively bring a nuanced flavour to the official opposition party. There are thousands of potential undecided voters who could be swayed by the aroma resulting from this merger. Black-meets-white-meets-struggle-credentials-meets-liberal-meets-a vision of a united South Africa across race, class, gender, religion and sexuality. This arranged marriage seems to have a lot of promise.
But the proof will be in the pap. There are potential ideological differences — black consciousness versus liberalism — which will obviously play themselves out between the newlyweds. Then there are the strong individual characters who are the figureheads of this arranged marriage — in the form of Ramphele and Zille — who will have to watch the interplay of their power dynamics. There are also key stakeholders from each party that need to feel there is enough food to share with the additional cousins, aunties and uncles.
Given this, a few questions arise? How will the new bride and queen (Ramphele) go about integrating herself into the new village? Will she wake up before sunset to make the fire and inadvertently outshine her new sister-in-law to her demise? Will she be able to win over the villagers who felt the old queen’s advisers were paler than mqombothi for their buy-in? Will she be able to dispel the myth that her presence is only a “rent a black” phenomenon? Or will she rise above expectations — using all the skills she has acquired in her previous homesteads — and lead her nation forward towards the actualisation of all the promises that democracy purported to bring?
Assignment one of the arranged marriage: How will the new bride and queen engage with the proposed march to the ANC headquarters next week? Let the arranged marriage begin …
Judy Sikuza is a social change consultant specialising in facilitation, leadership, diversity and coaching. She is also an associate at Reos Partners, a social enterprise that helps business, governments and civil society organisations solve complex social issues. Judy has a master’s in social/organisational psychology from Columbia University.