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In defense of Ramphele: our culture of cynicism.

A tough week In South Africa saw the announcement from one of the most underappreciated figures in this country. On Monday the 18th of February 2013, Mamphela Ramphele announced the launch of her political party platform, called Agang, to contest the 2014 elections.

That introduction mirrors other generic introductions that were brandied all over the media, competing momentarily with the Oscar Pistorious headlines. However, the reaction has been surprisingly suspicious.

Her speech was torn to pieces and over analysed to death. I don’t think that the media, opposition and ruling party should go easy on her by any means, but they seem to be dismissing this powerful person, with the potential to lead a party that could be a real contender.

As a female she has blazed trails unlike many others. That she has only flirted with formal politics now shows the resolve of someone with a strong voice.

One of my biggest issues is how her accomplishments are not being fully recognised. Sure they are mentioned, but they seem to be thrown about with disdain.

She has horrible dress sense and a jerry curl. She is totally out of the loop with the people of this country. She has minimal struggle credentials and was the mistress to Steve Biko. She helped formulate the Black Consciousness Movement, but South Africa has since moved on and is in another era. She is merely an academic and does not have a real understanding of the plight of ordinary South Africans. How will her party be any different to the others?

This is the general sentiment that I have been reading in various articles before, and after her announcement.
For those who don’t know, Steve Biko was a big deal during the struggle. Or as he is now know, not-Mandela. This is what I’ve realised many people see other struggle heroes who did not get as much exposure as Madiba. If anyone had said that Nelson Mandela needs to stop riding the wave of his prison time and move on, it would have caused quite the furore, and rightly so. I don’t think it is necessary to compare struggles, because that is an argument where no one would come out on top. However, I do not see it as necessary or appropriate to denigrate the credentials of others. Speaking of which, Ramphele’s credentials should really be more than enough to be labelled as credible and a fierce and worthy opponent for the other parties in South Africa.

Helen Zille, it could be argued, has been using Steve Biko for her own cause. As the journalist who broke the story about his death at the hands of security forces while in detainment, is widely known as her big foray into politics. So why does no one tell her to shut up about that?

Zille was, in fact, one of the many who have dismissed Ramphele, and Agang. This party appears to be more than just an idle threat to the two big powers. With the news this week that Ramphele wanted the DA to dissolve and start a new party with her, it seems that she has the confidence to go against the big boys and girls. She has also been a thorn in the side of the ruling party, appearing on various platforms, establishing herself as a voice of the people, a defender of those who do not have the platform that she does. The recent FNB ad debacle has proven that the ruling party are afraid of opposition where they cannot use the race card.

I am a fan and supporter of Ramphele, but I too am sceptical about this turn to politics for her. The tricky thing about the machine of politics is that no matter who you are, you have to conform to party norms, rules and ideals. You could be new to the game and a revolutionary thinker, but the mechanisms are intricate and people are forced to change who they are for the sake of getting votes.
I have voted for many parties in the national and provincial elections, and my vote was going to the DA for this coming election.

I am now undecided.

It might even go back to the ANC. But the announcement by Ramphele was such a welcome relief as it brought another side to politics in addition to bringing out the other side of other parties. When I think back to the 2009 formation of COPE, it really was ego-driven and not about the people. Agang appears to have bided its time and while it has been criticised for starting this platform too soon to the upcoming elections, it has put the people of South Africa first in its consideration of the opinions of the constituents.

Instead of welcoming the challenge, the DA dismissed it and seemed extremely selfish in their own plight. They saw it simply as another party splitting the rightful votes of the opposition. I was not entirely surprised by ANC pitbull Gwede Mantashe’s rant about the imminent new party. Accusations that Agang would destabilise the country are dramatic and unnecessary. The new party would not shake the ruling party’s hold on the country, at least not yet, but this reaction is positive for the new party. A government should be scared of its people, and to have a party that incites this reaction in a party that has had a majority since the inception of democracy, would hopefully remind the ANC what they are meant to be doing.
Many people forget that the DA is an alliance, comprised of many parties which the DA machine had taken as their own to garner votes.

I have no problem with this, however if they are to dole criticisms for the messages of other parties such as Agang, is it then not fair to label the DA as fragmented with its composite of faces, which increase with every election? Agang comes complete with a face, which is not only black, but also smart and accomplished as a businesswoman and political

Another critique is her dress sense. For this I would go back to the now familiar, but still not credible “What if she were a man? Would that even be relevant?” The fact that she does not seem to be fazed by mainstream opinion of dress and beauty sets her apart from the other politicians who have bowed to convention. Ditto for her being the “mistress” to Biko. Why is this a hot topic, rather than “intellectual equal” to Biko? Because it attempts to diminish what she has accomplished.

She’s being criticised for being a bureaucrat and academic and having minimal political credentials. But what have the people with the supposed credentials done lately for this country? I see a lot of squabbling in a country in crisis. All the hype surrounding her announcement couldn’t have been in vain. The media did not wait eagerly for her to announce this platform for nothing. Why do we feel the need to turn on her now?

I do hope that she sticks to her guns and does not compromise for the sake of the powers that be. My final hope is that the journalists and pundits put aside their cynicism for a moment and not label her simply as the great black hype, soon to die amidst the mire. Because right now, hope is one thing we really need. With a name that translates to “let us build”, indicating their ambition, it is a stark reminder that the ruling parties have forgotten that we still have a long way to go to rebuild South Africa after a tumultuous past. A party that is ready to tackle these issues, and highlight those that are too quickly forgotten, can only do us good.

Maybe a fresh mind, and party, from an experienced individual from the margins is exactly what we need.


<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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