The announcement that Mamphela Ramphele will be the DA's presidential candidate will help deal with race issues, says Helen Zille.
The Democratic Alliance's surprise presidential candidate, Mamphela Ramphele, will help remove the opportunistic use of the race card by other political parties against the party, according to DA leader Helen Zille.
Zille revealed there were things that she couldn't say because she might be accused of racism, but these were things Ramphele could get away with.
She said for a long time, race has been used as an issue by those who do not want to deal with real issues in South African politics and the DA has been accused of being a white party, despite the majority of its leadership and membership being black.
On Tuesday morning, the DA announced that Ramphele, the founder and leader of Agang, is not only a candidate on the DA list for Parliament but will be going toe-to-toe with ANC president Jacob Zuma to contest the highest office in the land.
"Voting in South Africa should be about values and issues and principles, not about race. That is our vision and that is what our Constitution would like it to be and certainly, that's what Madiba wanted it to be," Zille said, responding to a question on whether she thought Ramphele would give the DA the credibility it seemed to lack among black voters.
"It's difficult for me to say race should not be the issue, because people immediately say: 'oh yes, you are white and of course you would say that' … but when Dr Ramphele gets up there and says race is not the issue, fixing education is the issue; fixing healthcare is the issue; getting land reform right is the issue … then people don't focus on her race as they do with me.
"I’m hoping we can go beyond this and make the issues the issue in South Africa and that is what we need to do."
Zille said she had no doubt that Ramphele would play a critical role in lifting South Africa's vision beyond "the convenient apartheid mind-set of categorising everything on race".
Ramphele chipped in adding: "It is very important to recognise that this is historic moment where we are going to take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance.
"We are going to take away the excuse. It is time for South Africans to demand a government that they deserve, not a government hiding behind the race card. We are taking away that race card and putting it in the dust bin,” said Ramphele.
Zille said that the statement by Ramphele – we will take away the excuse of race - was a critical example of what she [Zille] could never have said.
"Can you imagine what would happen if I said that … oh my goodness, the whole sky would have come down on me. But Dr Ramphele can put these things in a way that everyone knows it’s the truth without having people obscure the truth and go down the deviation of race," said Zille.
She referred to a statement made by ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa while campaigning in Limpopo last year that if people didn’t vote [for ANC], the boers would come back as an outrageous lie.
"Cyril Ramaphosa says if you vote for this party, apartheid would come back. What an outrageous lie?
"Dr Ramphele completely sweeps that lie aside. There is no way that somebody with a struggle history like she's got, somebody who was banished and really suffered in a way that none of us here today can begin to identify with … there is no way that a party with a presidential candidate who is Mamphela Ramphele will ever even think of bringing back apartheid," she said.
Zille said while redress and dealing with the legacy of apartheid were real issues, there needs to be a focus on those issues without denigrating anybody's contribution because they haven't got enough melanin "and nobody can throw that against Dr Ramphele".
Zille said Ramphele's candidacy was supported by the two-thirds of the party's federal executive.
Ramphele is not a DA member yet, but Zille said she would be before the elections.
Playing a role
Both Zille and Ramphele have claimed that former president Nelson Mandela's passing in December also played a role in getting them to work together.
"A lot has changed in South Africa since this time last year: Madiba has passed on, there is a huge cry for bringing people together and ensuring we rekindle the vision that Madiba had. That is what we are seeking to do," said Zille.
She said negotiations between the two parties stopped only briefly when Agang was being formed, otherwise the interactions were continuous.
"Interactions like this that are real game-changers in politics take time, you look at different formats, go through different options, scenarios and you work it out.
"As context change, most sensible people change their positions. We've come to this point, we have an agreement politically, but we have just the technical details to be worked out on the coming together of the DA and Agang structures and volunteers. For the rest we believe this is the best way to take South Africa forward into this critical election."
Ramphele described the move as "leadership", saying one had to put the country first and the ego in the pocket.
"There is no way anywhere in the world that you can make progress by holding on to views of yesterday.
"This is leadership. Leadership is about making decisions that are appropriate for the given moment.
"I publicly said over and over again that I am bridge between my generation that fought for freedom and the generation that needs to now lead and build the country," she said.
"It is time for those who fought for freedom to enable the transcendence of the politics of divide," said Ramphele.
She admitted that not everyone in Agang had been consulted about the move but that the process of consulting was ongoing.
Ramphele said Madiba's passing has removed the icon on the face of the ANC of today.
"People who were booing at the FNB Stadium were saying the emperor has no clothes because the iconic figure that they were hiding behind has rightly gone to his rest. Now they must be judged on their own merits.
"We want to honour his [Madiba's] legacy by taking the country forward by focusing on tomorrow and not yesterday."