Mamphela Ramphele for president?
Three months ago I wrote a blog post in which I said that one of my political dreams was that I would like to see Mamphela Ramphele as president of South Africa before I die. I conducted a straw poll on that blog post, and 80% of those who responded said that they would also like to see her as president. Of course that doesn’t translate into 80% of South African voters, but it still indicated that some people would like to see her as president.
And now comes the news that she is possibly thinking of forming a political party, or movement, or think-tank or something, and that this something will be explained later today.
I look forward to it with a certain amount of trepidation.
I rather hope that she isn’t going to form a new party.
The record of new parties in South Africa is not very good, and among the new parties have been one-woman parties, and their record had not been any better than any of the others.
I voted for Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats in 2004 and 2009, and where are they today?
The problem with the ID was that through Patricia de Lille seemed to have a fresh approach, and a willingness to tackle the problems facing the country, and a real vision for the future, the party itself seemed to manage to attract only a bunch of mediocrities who, like people in other parties, were simply trying to fulfil their political ambitions. Quite a number deserted to join COPE, which seemed to have nothing at all to offer except leadership squabbles. Patricia de Lille left the PAC because it was led by cobweb-covered fuddy-duddies who lived in the past and had no vision for the future, but she didn’t attract enough dynamic leaders to make a new party flourish. Can Mamphela Ramphele do any better?
Mamphela Ramphele, like Patricia de Lille, is attractive as a political leader because she tries to analyse problems and look for solutions instead of mouthing platitudes.
When I wrote the blog post saying my dream was to see her as president, it was before the ANC’s Mangaung conference in December, and my totally impractical what-if wish was based on the thought that the ANC might come to its senses and elect her as leader and as presidential candidate. Totally impractical, of course. And the precedents also don’t look good. I think Mamphela Ramphele as leader of the ANC would have faced the same problems as Mvume Dandala did as leader of Cope — presiding over a bunch of squabbling ambitious rivals bent on providing the media with an endless succession of personality clashes to distract attention from policy issues. As I said, I don’t think Mamphela Ramphele really has a taste for that, and lacks the moral turpitude that seems to be a prerequisite for the job. There are still good people in the ANC, people with good ideas who retain something of its former vision, but they have largely been sidelined or have sidelined themselves.
But there is a precedent of sorts. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine withdrew from politics to found IDASA, the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa. IDASA has been a think-tank, and we probably don’t need another think tank. Perhaps what is needed is something between a think-tank and a political party — a bit less abstract than the former, and a bit more visionary than the latter.
Mamphela Ramphela is one of South Africa’s foremost public intellectuals, and it would be good if she could attract a number of others. But that is not enough. It also needs popular support. There is plenty of popular dissatisfaction with the status quo, and in the past organisations like the UDF and MDM effectively mobilised the dissatisfied into a popular movement. But a similar movement today would have a weapon that the UDF and MDM did not have back then — the vote.
Instead of service delivery protests, a new mass democratic movement could encourage people in municipalities plagued by corruption to organise their own local parties to elect their own local leaders to municipal councils and thus oust the corrupt ones. So perhaps what Mamphela Ramphele needs to do is to form not one new party, but dozens of new local ones, reviving the civic organisations of the past, and take back the cities, one by one. And the country would follow.