For the Democratic Alliance, this was to be the “game-changer”. With a credible black face as its presidential candidate, the ANC would no longer be able to use the race card to dismiss the DA, went the reasoning. Yet, no sooner had the DA announced Mamphela Ramphele as its Number One candidate, the ANC was dismissing her as a “rented black”.

(The ANC knows all about “rented blacks” with some of its top leadership having been hired out as political protection to a variety of white-owned companies, and so successful was this strategy, that under ANC rule, a range of other products is now available such as “party for hire”, “rented police” and even “president for sale”. But that’s another article).

Whether something is a game-changer or not depends on who’s defining the game and, as the DA has now learned to its embarrassing horror, who the players are. While the DA succumbed to the race-game set by the ANC, the real game is about class, about the gap between those who have (an increasingly non-racial elite) and those who don’t have (still overwhelmingly black African), with race the historical or convenient frame used, depending on how, and with whom, “the game” is being played at a particular time.

But let’s look at how the DA — or its supporters — play “the game” and at how the appointment of Ramphele contradicts, or at least exposes, its own duplicity. On the one hand, Ramphele is appointed as this would be a reason why many people — particularly black people — would vote for the DA. On the other hand, there are many who would not even contemplate voting for the EFF because of its leader. But how dissimilar are Ramphele — the (former) great white hope and Julius Malema, the great white threat? It depends on who’s setting the rules of “the game”.

I have never met Malema and I have on one occasion met Ramphele in a handshake kind of way, so all I have to go on — like most of the voting public — is what is in the public domain through the media, through reports, commentary and what these two politicians themselves put out there.

In the first instance, many in the DA fold dismiss Malema as a political opportunist, as someone who initiated the EFF only as a platform for himself after being kicked out of the ANC, a platform that he will use to re-integrate himself into the ANC when it is in his interests to do so, thereby kicking his supporters in the teeth.

This very description could, of course, be ascribed to Ramphele after she — without any consultation with Agang’s leadership, made herself available as the DA’s candidate for the presidency. She did so at a time when her go-it-alone initiative was facing much-publicised financial challenges, so that — without any shred of principle — she opportunistically jumped into a political marriage of convenience that she had — for principled reasons — rejected less than a year earlier. The DA not only engaged this opportunism, they aided and abetted it. Gallingly, Ramphele called this about-face opportunism “leadership” in the tradition of Nelson Mandela. Now that she has reversed her decision largely in response to the hugely negative response from within her own ranks, she reveals just how opportunistic this appropriation of Madiba was too.

Secondly, Malema is ridiculed for his bling lifestyle, for the apparent contradictions between his wealth on the one hand, and on the other, the interests of the poor who he claims to represent. The DA presented Ramphele as an alternative to the corrupt ANC and its Number One, as a woman of great integrity and an avid anti-corruption campaigner.

South Africa is estimated to have 48 000 millionaires. Ramphele is one of them. By her own admission, she is worth more than R50 million, although this is only 10% of what Forbes Magazine said she was worth in 2009 when it listed her as one of Africa’s richest women. I would venture that she is far wealthier than Helen Zille and many times richer than most DA supporters who had a longer time and more conducive circumstances in which to accumulate wealth under apartheid. So how did Ramphele get to be so wealthy, and so rapidly?

I’m happy that she has declared her assets as a politician, but I’d be much more interested to know how she acquired her wealth, particularly after reports of “empowerment deals” — such as the one at Goldfields where she served as chairperson of the board — that allocated shares worth millions to politically connected individuals.

How different is Ramphele to Malema, both of whose “value adds” to companies would have been less technical, commercial and financial, and more political? In a country with such gross inequality and poverty, even if Ramphele’s wealth was gained legally, how moral is it that one person should acquire so much, in so short a space of time, while so many continue to live below the poverty line? That the DA believed that Ramphele could be an alternative to the apparently corrupt amorality of the ANC leadership, reflects its ability also to play “the game” on its terms, to set the rules of the game when it serves its interests, and to turn a blind eye to deeply moral questions.

And how the DA believed that the multi-millionaire Ramphele would resonate more with the poor who constitute the majority of the “voter market” than Malema with his supposedly contradictory lifestyle, is anyone’s guess.

Thirdly, Malema’s personal qualities are deemed a major liability. He is arrogant, self-serving and has a huge ego, goes the political mainstream narrative. It is all about him.

However, while we know of others in the EFF’s leadership, Agang has been all about Ramphele. Only after her short-lived, unlikely DA-sponsored presidential bid, did we hear of and see others who are engaged in Agang.

Now the DA has dismissed her as someone who cannot be trusted; were they unaware of her personal shortcomings before? And, if so, why did they insist on appointing her? In playing “the game” on their terms and failing so dismally, it is likely that — unless the DA does really well in the elections — many within the DA will be calling for a new coach and management team!

Fourth, Malema is painted as being just a little short of the anti-Christ, an anti-democrat, a rising tyrant, a fascist who appointed himself as leader of the EFF, without members having voted for him.

Agang was launched before the EFF and yet, Ramphele was never elected by the platform’s/party’s leadership either. So much of Agang has been built around the self-cultivated cult — her impeccable struggle credentials, her World Bank experience, her academic excellence, her integrity and advocacy against corruption — of Ramphele. The irony is that the Democratic Alliance — the erstwhile defenders of our much-threatened democracy — not only parachuted this unelected leader into its top position (before getting her to sign a membership form, mind you), they did so when other DA candidates had to go through a rigorous process of grilling and selection to ensure that they subscribed to the party’s values, and that they would represent the party effectively. But then, when you are setting the rules of the game, then a few game-changers are permissible, yes?

Fifth, the DA fold ridicules Malema — like Jacob Zuma — for being unable to run their own finances, implying that they cannot be trusted to run the country. Again, Ramphele is offered as the alternative on this score. And yet, the very reason why Ramphele made herself available to the DA, was precisely because her initiative, Agang, was facing financial and staffing woes, reflecting her inability to anticipate and manage risk. But then, perhaps the thinking was that while Ramphele would be the public face of the DA challenging the ANC, it would be the “white DA” running things behind the scenes, just like the average empowerment deal. Or the city or province where the DA governs.

Some believe that notwithstanding the failure of the Ramphele deal, the DA has proven its commitment to non-racism by offering her its presidential candidacy (an empty offer as it would not have happened). However, the debacle has rather revealed the DA’s double standards, showing that it is at least as expedient as any other political formation by ignoring its principles, or turning a blind eye to the contradictions of its presidential candidate, in order to make short-term political gains.

Ramphele resonates with middle-class South Africa: she’s highly educated, well-dressed, articulate, with a positive international profile and her wealth makes them feel safe about their own relative comforts. The “uneducated”, “corrupt” Zuma is a “buffoon” and is dismissed by the middle class while Malema with his poor woodwork result is a source of ridicule, perhaps more so, because he represents a threat to the “haves”.

Yet, Zuma, soon after having hundreds of corruption charges against him withdrawn, won the ANC their highest number of votes since 1994, and Malema has attracted more followers than the Agang of Ramphele who the DA chose to install to counter both Zuma and Malema.

If the DA wanted to show its true commitment to transformation — at least of itself — it would have delayed the announcement of its election lists (why the rush since the election date has not been announced yet), ensured that the relationship between the DA and Agang was solidified, and that a mutually agreed percentage of Agang members — perhaps informed by the most recent independent voter surveys — would be on the joint DA-Agang election list.

Instead, because of Ramphele’s clear position of weakness, the DA cynically chose to cherry-pick her as their “presidential candidate”, announced their electoral lists (which, in its “most diverse ever” form is a reflection more on its previous lists than on the current lists being representative of the demographics and talent of the country) two days before the announcement of its “presidential candidate”!

The DA totally set the rules of its game, and while Ramphele must accept some of the responsibility for this, what was to have been a game-changer, has instead revealed the shallowness and cynicism of the DA’s game-plan, scoring a huge own goal in the process.


Mike van Graan

Mike van Graan

Mike van Graan is the executive director of the African Arts Institute and is an adviser to Arterial...

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