South African activist scraps plan to run for presidency

Pact between Mamphela Ramphele and rival opposition party lasted just five days

Anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele hugs opposition Democratic Alliance  leader Helen Zille at a news conference in Cape Town on January 28th to announce that Dr Ramphele would  run as presidential candidate for the DA in this year’s South African election. The pact between the two lasted five days. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele hugs opposition Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille at a news conference in Cape Town on January 28th to announce that Dr Ramphele would run as presidential candidate for the DA in this year’s South African election. The pact between the two lasted five days. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Mon, Feb 3, 2014, 17:50

As political marriages go, the pact that saw Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele become the Democratic Alliance party’s presidential candidate for this year’s election must rank as one of the shortest in South African history.

A mere five days after DA leader Helen Zille and Dr Ramphele triumphantly announced at a joint press conference that the latter had agreed to front the main opposition’s presidential challenge to the ruling African National Congress, the deal was off.

Late on Sunday the DA announced that Dr Ramphele had reneged on her agreement with the party, with Ms Zille accusing her longstanding friend of playing a game of cat-and-mouse: telling the media one thing, Agang SA supporters another, and the DA something else.

“It is not clear what her objective is, but whatever it is, it is not in the interests of the South African people,” she said. “By going back on the deal... just five days after it was announced, Dr Ramphele has demonstrated — once and for all — that she cannot be trusted to see any project through to its conclusion.”

Dr Ramphele blamed party politics for her withdrawal from the deal that would have seen her go head-to-head with ANC leader and current president Jacob Zuma.

“I believed that we had the opportunity to transcend party politics and engage South Africans in a conversation about the future,” she told reporters yesterday, before adding: “The last week has demonstrated that, for some, this new way of thinking about our future will be hard to achieve right now.”

Dr Ramphele said that, as a result, the time for a partnership between her party the DA was not right. “Some [people] cannot or will not transcend party politics. We see people trapped in old-style race-based politics,” she said.

A physician, author and former partner of the late activist Steve Biko, Dr Ramphele has so the respect of much of the country’s black majority. Her decision to run as the Democratic Alliance’s candidate for the presidency had been seen as a a potential turning point for a party keen to ditch its image as a guardian of white privilege.

It appears that in the days before and after last week’s announcement of her candidacy, many of Dr Ramphele’s party members expressed their disappointment at her decision to front the DA’s presidential bid and accused her of not consulting them about it.

As part of the deal the DA said that Agang SA would merge with it, but it appears that a large number of Dr Ramphele’s supporters insisted they did not want to merge with the main opposition party.

Ms Zille said she and Dr Ramphele had come to an agreement before last Tuesday’s media conference, but on the morning of it the former anti-apartheid activist had decided she would remain Agang SA’s leader. She said she had told Dr Ramphele this was an “electoral nonsense” as she could not remain the leader of one party and run as presidential candidate of another.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu told reporters it was a mystery how the two opposition groups had thought their plan could work in the first place.

“A white party remains white, in the words of Ramphele. Then all of a sudden there was a black face, and that is renting,” he said. “Then she suddenly realised how truthful her own statements had been, and she started to reverse.”

Additional reporting, Reuters