Editorial: Small political parties must take the lead

Mamphela Ramphela at the Agang SA launch (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Mamphela Ramphela at the Agang SA launch (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The advent of Mamphela Ramphele in politics is at once being hailed as a decisive shift in the electoral calculus and written off as a quixotic folly.

We won't really know until Agang starts to develop its ground game. But as our reporting this week demonstrates, the new "party platform" emerged from increasingly urgent discussions among leaders of opposition parties and civil society aimed at more effectively challenging ANC hegemony.

Clearly one option on the table was a "super-opposition". Another was a reconfigured and perhaps renamed Democratic Alliance. Those of us who believe that multiparty democracy offers the best hope of both justice and development have long been frustrated by the failure of opposition parties to offer an alternative that is attractive to significant numbers of voters.

Alliances and moves towards a two-party system are a credible strategy for achieving that. But ego often stands in the way. More than differing ideologies, leaders grapple with a lack of trust, and the fears of those who may lose out to a "takeover" by better resourced and bigger rivals. There are real benefits attached to leading a party, which many are loath to give up.

Some of the smaller parties already complain that the DA sees itself as a governing party in 2019 and doesn't care much about their concerns. This is an issue that must be addressed. A party with just a few seats could give the ANC an edge in finely balanced provincial legislatures, especially on votes that require a two-thirds majority.

 Smaller parties can either continue to squabble or they can seize the moment. Someone is going to have to take the lead.

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