ANC, DA not fazed by Ramphele as possible opposition
Anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele will struggle to provide a viable alternative to the current political status quo if she intends to form a political party. This is the unforgiving view of analysts, the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) when quizzed about Ramphele's touted plans to announce the formation of her own political party this week.
Rumours of the birth of a new political party abounded since late January after Ramphele was quoted on a visit to the US, that she was "entering politics to save her country".
Media reports suggested last year that Ramphele would be joining the DA as a replacement for incumbent leader Helen Zille.
But the official opposition have now rubbished those claims and said they are not threatened by Ramphele's intentions.
"We have a 60-year legacy upon which we drive the issue of ensuring a better life for all South Africans. At the moment she has none of that base, no platform to build on," DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane told the Mail & Guardian.
Maimane added that even though Ramphele would appeal to black urban middle class voters – a key target of the DA in the 2014 general election – the party was not concerned about losing votes.
"We've been growing in rural areas and I would be surprised if the Mamphela Ramphela brand is even heard of in those constituencies," he added.
"She will do well but I don't think we are too worried about what the prospects of her forming a political party will do to our voter base."
ANC is unfazed
The ruling party too seem unfazed by the possibility of meeting Ramphele at the ballot box.
"Are you asking us to be worried? To ask her not to fight elections?" ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe wryly asked the M&G.
"She will be joining a group of over 100 parties that are registered with the electoral commission – parties that claim they will battle the ANC and take votes away from us."
Mantashe said the ANC has a proven track record of governance from which to draw on when attracting voters, while Ramphele will only be calling on her past as an anti-apartheid campaigner.
"It remains to be seen if what she created – or will create – changes anything. We will contest elections against anyone and are confident we will succeed," Mantashe said.
"A political alternative would go down well," Adam Habib, political analyst and current deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg told the M&G.
"It would shake up the ANC and the political landscape as a whole, but I am not sure Mamphela Ramphele is the answer."
As a well-known critic of the ANC and their government, the globally renowned Ramphele looks to be ideally placed to form an opposition party.
According to the Sunday Times on Sunday, she is even said to be working with political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki, former Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Barney Pityana and former state minister Mosibudi Mangena in the hopes of bringing one into being.
But Ramphele will find it tough going in the current South African political landscape, Habib said.
"If you are thinking about creating an effective opposition you need national and grass-roots structures, you need money and you need that personality," he added.
"At the level of personality she is a great alternative but I don't think she can as easily translate this into a political alternative without the other two variables."
Habib's views were echoed by Eusebius McKaiser, political commentator and associate at the University of Witwatersrand Centre for Ethics.
"What will Mamphela Ramphele bring to the table that offers anything different?" he asked the M&G.
"From where I am standing there is no incredible bright spark that she is holding that will draw voters away from the DA and ANC."
McKaiser added that you "can't form a party on personality alone. She is an amazing commentator and an intellectual, but as a politician I am not so sure."
There are also suggestions that Ramphele – or any prospective party she founds – will form part of a re-alignment of South African opposition politics.
This could translate into her forming a coalition with smaller parties whose fortunes have waned in the past two elections.
Possible suitors range from the United Democratic Movement to the Azanian People's Organisation.