S. African opposition unites, Ramphele to challenge Zuma in polls
South Africa's centrist opposition parties joined forces Tuesday to challenge the ruling ANC at upcoming elections, with black consciousness stalwart Mamphela Ramphele tapped as their presidential candidate.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) announced it would field Ramphele — the partner of slain South African hero Steve Biko — to face beleaguered incumbent President Jacob Zuma.
It is the first time that the DA is fielding a black presidential candidate in an election, providing a shield against persistent charges they are a vessel for white interests.
DA leader Helen Zille described the decision as a “game-changing moment” in South African politics.
Ramphele launched her own political platform, Agang, a year ago, but in a crowded political field the party has struggled to garner funds and votes.
In Ramphele, the DA appears to believe it has found a leader who can nudge the dial in its favour, or at least neutralise the African National Congress’s attack and tap into deep voter unease.
She described her move as “a historic moment”.
“We are going to take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance,” Ramphele said. “We are taking away that race card and putting it in the dustbin.”
But the ANC alleged that the DA was using her because of the colour of her skin.
“It’s a rent-a-black, rent-a-leader” campaign, said ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. “We can’t be concerned about that.”
The death of former ANC leader Nelson Mandela and the upcoming 20th anniversary of democracy have only served to underscore the ruling party’s failings.
Around one in three workers has no job or has stopped looking, many South Africans live without water or other basic services and inequality has increased since the end of apartheid.
Still the ruling party, having garnered around two-thirds of the vote in every election since the advent of democracy in 1994, will be confident of victory.
Despite scandal and division, the ANC remains the preeminent force in South African politics, counting on unparallelled grassroots and donor support.
The ANC won 2009 polls with 65.9 percent of the ballots, while its strongest contender the DA garnered just 16.7 percent.
“Even if the ANC is weakened and divided, it is not at a point of collapse,” said political analyst Susan Booysen.
Ramphele’s arrival “could add two percentage points to the DA’s support,” Booysen said.
Ramphele, a medical doctor, was once a senior figure in the World Bank, but her anti-apartheid credentials are equally strong.
The girlfriend of Biko, an anti-apartheid activist who was murdered by police in 1977, she has been a vociferous critic of Zuma and his party.
“You know it all: The stolen money, the broken promises, the lost jobs, the sliding rand, the corruption, filthy hospitals, schools with no books and streets, homes and places of work that remain unsafe,” she said Tuesday.
A respected academic who fearlessly fought against white minority rule, the 66-year-old formally entered South African opposition politics in June last year.
Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described her as “a brave and principled leader who has been ready to take costly stands for social justice”.
But she struggled to define a policy and establish a support base, while critics suggested Agang was likely to appeal only to a narrow constituency of educated urbanites.
The cash-strapped party has also failed to fire up voters in the same way as the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party started by the firebrand former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.
Malema’s party, which advocates the nationalisation of land and mines, has been polling well and is likely to steal votes away from the ANC.
Malema’s EFF last week formed a loose alliance with former ANC foe the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to protect each other’s members during campaigning, in a country where political and labour gatherings can descend into violence.