THE anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele has announced that she will run for president for the Democratic Alliance (DA) in this year’s South African election, giving the main opposition party a prominent black leader to challenge the ruling African National Congress.
The ANC said the move was a “rent-a-black”’ ploy to present a diverse front to voters in what is seen as a party largely for whites.
Ms Ramphele – who was the partner of Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader who died in police custody in 1977 – has been an activist, doctor, academic and World Bank executive. Last year she formed her own party, Agan (meaning “Build”), but it struggled to gain political momentum and now she has linked it with the larger DA.
Whatever the outcome, South Africa is entering a more fluid era in which the ANC – in power for 20 years and likely to win again this year, although possibly with a smaller majority – is increasingly prone to political attack. On the other end of the opposition spectrum is Julius Malema, ex-head of the ANC’s youth league and now leader of an upstart party that wants to redistribute wealth to the poor.
The upcoming election, for which no date has yet been set, is the first in South Africa since the death of Nelson Mandela on 5 December.
“The death of Nelson Mandela has changed many things for South Africa,” Ms Ramphele said yesterday. “It has caused us to reflect on our journey over the last 20 years, on the progress we have made, and on the opportunities utilised and lost.”
President Jacob Zuma and the ANC – the party once led by Mr Mandela – have lost some support because of corruption, poverty, unemployment, police brutality and a lack of adequate government services.
Ms Ramphele was introduced by Helen Zille, head of the DA and premier of the Western Cape, the only one of South Africa’s nine provinces not run by the ANC. Ms Zille was a journalist at the time of Mr Biko’s death, and played a lead role in uncovering the circumstances of his killing, despite denials from officials in the white government.
Ms Zille said “old political formations” in South Africa were becoming obsolete, and that her party includes apartheid-era liberals who opposed the repressive system, former members of the current ruling party and people, including Ms Ramphele, with a background in the Black Consciousness movement.
While the DA has grown, its opponents have sought to capitalise on the fact its roots are as a mostly white liberal movement that opposed apartheid, suggesting that the party is racist and not to be trusted.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s secretary-general, said: “This is not a merger, it is what we call ‘rent-a-black’ and ‘rent-a-leader’.
“Please, the ANC is the home for all South Africans. Come back to the ANC.”
The ANC said its list of candidates for the general elections had Mr Zuma at the top. Mr Zuma was booed during a memorial event for Mr Mandela, raising questions about whether dissatisfaction with the president was damaging his party.