SO, Mamphela Ramphele is all set, it seems, to announce this week that she is starting a new political party. I can’t wait and I’m sorry it’s taken her so long to do what she has to do. I also feel sorry for Helen Zille and the Democratic Alliance (DA) because I am certain she has put a big effort into trying to recruit Ramphele. That, for the moment at least, is off and it is equally certain that the DA would shed some votes (mainly in the black middle-class market it is targeting) to her in the general election next year.
That should not matter too much. Ramphele has always done things herself and in her way. It is all very well writing her off as too intellectual or too aloof but that is to forget how tough she is. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela became a celebrity when she was banished to Brandfort in the Free State. Mamphela opened a clinic when she was banished to an isolated shack outside Tzaneen.
And if she is to be true to herself and her black consciousness background, she could not really enter formal politics through a party still run, if not led, by white people. If she and the DA are ever to sit down and talk, it simply has to be after Ramphele has tested herself in political battle. It is just about a year away.
For a while after Mangaung, I had new ANC deputy leader Cyril Ramaphosa down to deal relatively easily with Helen Zille, making it difficult for her to make more progress among African voters, at least in 2014, before it becomes apparent that he cannot rescue the ANC from itself. Ramphele’s arrival would complicate that picture. She can give as good as she gets, and more. She will make it hard for the DA in urban and rural African areas and she’ll provide a home for middle-class and even poorer Africans, who can no longer stomach the thought of voting for a party led by Jacob Zuma. All in all, she is a much worse prospect for the ANC than the DA.
The way this works in democracies is that a party as dominant as the ANC takes a while to topple. The opposition simply has to go through all kinds of name and leadership changes as it continues to plug away at the beast. The DA is by far the best-organised opposition party (in fact, it is the best-organised party in the country, period), which means that, at some stage, any black-led opposition political leader of serious intent, including Ramphele, will need access to the DA party machine.
In the aftermath of next year’s elections, we’ll be witness to a great realignment in the opposition. Remember, the idea isn’t to knock the ANC out of government — that would take an extremely long time — but to force it into coalitions because it can no longer take more than half the vote. Nothing will do more to get policy action and common sense back into our politics than real political competition, so let us all hope that when Ramphele stands up to speak this week, it is to tell us she is starting a party.
For a clue as to what kind of politician she might be, I recommend you to the website www.dinokengscenarios.co.za. The Dinokeng Scenarios, released in 2010 by a team of the great and the good, led largely by Ramphele, consisted of three possibilities for South Africa: a "Walk Apart" scenario, where we are today and which ends in calamity, a "Walk Behind" scenario, into which we are currently headed, with greater state involvement in the economy and which ends with intense prescribed asset laws forcing people where to invest, increased state borrowing at high rates to fund a growing deficit, an election run on a "growth and redistribution ticket", an IMF loan conditional on sharp spending cuts, and a government crackdown in the face of widespread discontent and protests.
Last, there is a "Walk Together" scenario, which ends more happily, and which is, I presume, where Ramphele wants to take us. Healthcare and parent associations spring up around South Africa, service delivery improves, the ANC runs on a "clean government" ticket but has to rule in alliance with other parties. The economy begins to turn and a "Citizen’s Charter" is born, along with a social pact between parties, unions, citizens and business. The unions back measures to combat youth unemployment.
What’s not to like?