Thursday, February 6, 2014

Theatre of the absurd

South Africa’s politics at the moment are pretty bizarre, given it has an incompetent, self-aggrandizing, polygymous president in Jacob Zuma, whose private residence in Nkandla, Zululand has been upgraded with state funds because of security concerns to the tune of $20 million or so.  

Zuma's state-funded private residence, Nkandla

This whole episode in itself is an example of the theatre of the absurd as one listens to all sorts of Zuma underlings trying to justify it.  An as-yet-unreleased report on the Nkandla expenditure by public protector, Thuli Madonsela, who is regarded as one of the honest members of government, is eagerly awaited.  We don’t know when it will be released, and there are rumours that an ex Commissioner of Police, the fired Bheki Cele, is demanding time to respond to allegations contained in it that the police failed to stop fruitless and wasteful expenditures.

The rumours also indicate that the ruling party, the ANC, is trying to delay the release of the report until after the elections in April.

However, the mind-boggled citizens of South Africa had their minds hyper-boggled over the last week, not by more antics by the ANC or its members, but by the opposition.

The main opposition party in South Africa is the DA (Democratic Alliance).  It is widely regarded as being the party of the whites, a hang over of various anti-apartheid parties of the past.  The head of the party is Helen Zille, an able politician, but white.  Of course this offers and easy target for the ruling ANC.

The DA controls the Western Province, in which Cape Town is situated, and has about 30% of parliamentary seats in the national assembly. 

Zille is smart enough to realize that the future of the DA is to transform itself into a party that does not have the ‘white’ stigma.

I need to take a little detour here to fill in some backstory.

The famous anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko had a life-long companion in a woman whose name is Mamphela Ramphele.  She is quite an extraordinary person – herself an anti-apartheid activist, banned by the apartheid government – she is also a medical doctor with a strong community-health focus.  She was once managing director of the World Bank, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, and is a successful business woman.

The remarkable Mamphela Ramphele

A year ago, she started a new political party in South Africa, called Agang South Africa, meaning Build South Africa, in her native tongue of Northern Sotho.  I was excited by this, because I found her approach to the future of the country refreshing.  I was impressed by her credentials and was cautiously optimistic that she would not be tempted by the potential pickings of being a senior government member.

Agang SA was likely to garner my vote at election time.

Back to the story.

So with only a couple of months before the next general elections, the DA’s Zille and Agang’s Ramphele decided to form an alliance.  Since the DA was an established party with decent infrastructure and grass-roots support, it looked to me that the very small Agang was going to be subsumed by the DA.  In return, the DA was going to put forward Ramphele’s name as its presidential candidate.

So on January 28, this new alliance was announced with the two women sealing their alliance with a kiss.

The kiss!

I thought it to be a good move for both parties and felt that the DA had taken a bold move to move towards being seen as a South African party, not a South African whites’ party.  The country was abuzz with the announcement.  It was unexpected; it was bold; and for the first time in many years, it offered something new in South African politics, something that had the potential to be a game-changer.

Now for the bizarre twist.

On January 31, three days later, Ramphele announced that she would NOT stand as the DA presidential candidate and would remain leader of Agang South Africa.

The country was boggled, nay hyper-boggled.

Walking the streets of Cape Town, one could see glazed eyes and shaking heads.  “What the F…?” was the question du jour.

It seems that in the rush to make the announcement – the elections are two months away – neither Zille nor Ramphele had thought through the details before calling a major news conference.  It seems that neither party had been adequately consulted about what was going to happen; for Ramphele to be the DA candidate, she would have had to be a DA member; but the Agang SA constitution prohibits an Agang member from being a member of another party.  Clearly Agang supporters must have revolted, forcing Ramphele to change tack.

Which is a great shame – I do think the alliance was a great idea and would have stirred things up against the ANC, which is suffering in the public’s perception.  There has been the Nkandla scandal; droves of its officials are seen as corrupt; and its management of municipalities has been dismal at best. 
So I think a great chance has been squandered.

I guess the lesson to be learned is that one shouldn’t call a national press conference unless one has all the ducks in a row.

And so the curtain comes down on yet another theatre of the absurd, and ANC members are parodying the Zille-Ramphele kiss at every opportunity.

And political cartoonist, Zaphiro, has had a field day.

Stan - Thursday


  1. Last night I started reading, "Why Nations Fail," by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. And BINGO, this morning you offer Exhibit A to their thesis.

    Timing is everything...or rather make that preparation for timing.

  2. Do you think the disease of 'Not thinking it through properly' might be pandemic amongst politicians. In the debate for Scottish Independence, they are all suffering from it.

  3. My take on this matches Stan's exactly. Since the DA stands for Democratic Alliance, it seems an alliance between the two parties might have been a practical and sensible way to go, rather than a formal union. Ramphele has lost a lot of credibility - and my vote also for what that's worth.

  4. But why can't Ramphele run as an Agang candidate with the endorsement of DA? Why do the bad guys have to win again? This is absurd for sure, but it seems also tragic for the near future of a country I do not belong to but love.