Mamphela Ramphele and Helen Zille at a press briefing in Cape Town on Tuesday, where it was announced Ramphele accepted an invitation to be the DA’s presidential candidate in this year’s national election. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Mamphela Ramphele and Helen Zille at a press briefing in Cape Town on Tuesday, where it was announced Ramphele accepted an invitation to be the DA’s presidential candidate in this year’s national election. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

AGANG SA leader Mamphela Ramphele has accepted an invitation by the Democratic Alliance (DA) to be its presidential candidate in this year’s national elections.

The two parties plan to set up a joint technical committee to manage the integration of their structures, DA leader Helen Zille announced at a press briefing in Cape Town on Tuesday morning.

Ms Zille, seated next to Dr Ramphele, said this was a “game-changing” moment for South Africa. Dr Ramphele will be the face of the DA on the national ballot paper and she and Ms Zille plan to go on a countrywide roadshow to present the new face of the party and explain the reasons behind the move.

Political analyst Daniel Silke said the fact that Dr Ramphele had joined forces with the DA was “an admission that her go-it-alone efforts have largely failed and she severely underestimated the practical and logistical difficulties of establishing a new political party in South Africa.”

Dr Ramphele said, however, that she believed the decision to join the two parties was made “in the best interests of South Africa as we head into turbulent waters”.

She said the DA was the “government in waiting”, adding: “We are the representatives of millions of South Africans who believe in the promise and potential of a multiparty democracy.

“This is the time to bring our country’s fantastic resources together, not for the few but for the many, not just for insiders but for all.”

She added: “We are coming together to fulfil the promises of 1994 and restore our journey to the country of our dreams. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts.”

She said the partnership would deliver the South Africa of people’s dreams, and stressed that it was time to put the country first. The ground has shifted in South African politics, former president Nelson Mandela has died and the “broad church” of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is fragmenting, she said.

Dr Ramphele had to defend her decision when journalists confronted her with her former opinions that the ordinary people of South Africa could not vote for the DA. She said she had been referring to the DA as it was at the time.

“For the DA, her joining will be seen as a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for the party's hitherto lacklustre election launch and will potentially galvanise a renewed enthusiasm for the campaign,” Mr Silke said.

As the DA is unlikely to become the ruling party with Dr Ramphele as president of South Africa, she would become an MP. Ms Zille said she would have to go through the normal election procedures with the DA’s parliamentary caucus for the election of parliamentary leaders.

Agang crisis

Agang, which entered the political scene last year amid much pomp and fanfare, was in recent weeks seen to be facing an internal crisis, with sources both within the party and outside saying some members were becoming disgruntled with the direction of the party its leadership.

Speculation had been rife ahead of the briefing that a merger of some sort with Agang was on the cards. Ms Zille and Dr Ramphele are long-time friends and in many ways share political views, though Dr Ramphele has in the past been an outspoken critic of the DA.

On Tuesday, however, Dr Ramphele was emphatic that the merger decision was not prompted by the fact that Agang was on the verge of financial collapse. “The only party that is bankrupt is the ANC,” she said.

A number of well-known personalities have been linked with the DA since the party this weekend announced its candidates for public posts after national elections later this year. At least six “confidential” places were reserved for people yet to be named.

Another one of the “confidential candidates” is Glynnis Breytenbach, the outspoken prosecutor at the National Prosecuting Authority.

A parliamentary observer said on Tuesday: “The DA have long battled to get someone with strong struggle credentials into their party. Dr Ramphele fits that requirement perfectly.”

Ms Zille told the press briefing that the DA’s interaction with Dr Ramphele had continued over a long time as they examined all the options available to them. Circumstances had changed dramatically since these talks first kicked off last year and came to nothing.

Now, she said, “we have an agreement politically and only have to work out the technical details”. 

Ms Zille also said that two-thirds of the DA federal executive, which met on Friday, had approved the decision to put Dr Ramphele at the top of the party’s list of election candidates.

She said that when she was elected DA leader in 2007 she set out a case for the realignment of politics in South Africa. “I said then that political change will come about as the old political formations become obsolete. We can see this happening now.”

Dr Ramphele said she believed the merger was a historic moment and would “take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance” by acting as a bridge across the divide of race-identity politics.

With Paul Vecchiatto