Zille and Ramphele: A marriage of inconvenience

"Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments", wrote Shakespeare. But when it comes to the marriage between Agang SA and the Democratic Alliance (DA) … let's. Because if there's one thing that Mamphela Ramphele has taught her supporters, it's that love does in fact alter. It's selective. You can change your mind and you can change your game and you can let the chips, or in her case, your supporters, fall where they may.

Ramphele entered the political fold at the beginning of last year with much "mother of a people" pomp and ceremony when she initially announced her political platform – Agang SA. Powerful words were thrown around: "education", "reform", "we the people of South Africa" … hell, the only thing missing was a possible South African version of Maya Angelou, sitting in the background, taking notes furiously in order to close each public speaking event with an ode – written on the spot. But one of the things Ramphele openly denied was any coalition with Helen Zille and the DA. 


Crowds settled. That bit of doubt was dusted away. Agang SA was here and it had supporters, many of them visible on social media. Among them were staunch believers in Steve Biko, whose past ties with Ramphele worked in her favour – even though she said on several occasions that Agang SA was not a black consciousness movement per se. Other supporters were liberal South Africans bored with Zille's zumba moves at political rallies and disgusted by the ANC. Then there seemed to be support from a younger generation of middle-class South Africans, looking for something new – a non- tea-cosy, Breitling watch-wearing, team-switching revolutionary, perhaps.

Right …

And while Agang SA went on to have a fairly well-designed website, with an effective, or at the very least effectively active social media strategy, they seemed to veer in the past few months towards the fringe of politics town. Their cyber village did not equal an expansively visible and growing physical one. And it was only every now and then, when the imaginary loud speaker in Politicsville did a 360-degree hover in the sky that we would hear them utter those same words: "education!" "Reform!" "We the people of South Africa!" And on occasion there was the hum of a cracking of a whip against the corruption of President Jacob Zuma's regime.

Fast forward to the breaking news headline: Ramphele joins the DA (and so forth). Shock. Horror. Disappointment. A quick visit to the ever-active social media platforms belonging to the party showed more comments accumulated in a shorter time than ever. Toys were thrown out of cots everywhere. "Where did I put that EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] form", wrote one follower. "You traitor, you lied to us", wrote another.

Don't get me wrong, there were a few positive comments dispersed here and there too. People echoing Zille's words during the press conference, saying things such as: "This is a massive step forward for South African politics", "What a change, what a good change, what a good massive change", "huge" and "HUGE". 

Now no one really knows (yet) why Zille "chose" Ramphele, or why Ramphele agreed. We can sit around a fire and thumb-suck until the Nkandla cows come home, or "analyse" the factors, like smart people like to call it – and we may even come really close. We can go a bit further and straight-out ask. But all we'd get is vague shuffling, technical jargon, things about "talks", "agreements", "moves" and "change" – much like when Zille does that B-Boy/toyi-toyi impression – you know, that thing that makes you want to shout at her: "Two-step Helen. Just stick to the two step." 

Basically, we would get something that looks and sounds a lot like it is neither here nor there. And now, there exists the same in Ramphele. Her supporters, once chirping, wormless baby birds sidled earnestly towards her on Facebook in awe. This beacon of hope, this protective nest-building mother hen who weaved homes for their vote-needy souls with hope. "We the people of South Africa", went to her tweet upon tweet, follower upon follower. 

And now that Ramphele has foot-faulted, even failed according to some of her former chicklets – they feel as though their wings have been clipped. They have been lied to. And they are a bunch of angry birds. On Sunday, a statement on the Agang SA website asked their loyal followers to ignore rumours stating that Ramphele was on the DA's list of candidates for election. (In their defence, the statement also said that it was no secret that they did chat to other parties in an effort to stand together against the ANC). The statement has since been removed from the site.

(An image of the statement)

Meanwhile, at the presser on Tuesday, Zille waxed lyrical about how the two parties had been in talks for a long time (about the merge I am assuming? Or as implied?) – cringeworthy contradiction right there. No more nurturing. No more transparency. Chirp, chirp, chirp.

The pair's honeymoon phase starts with this upset. And it's because of this upset that Ramphele and Zille will not be able to share a bed for a long time. Not if Ramphele cares about her hatchlings. The two will have to sneak about, tread carefully and spend weekends away in secret, until the younger are weaned off the idea that Agang SA (the way they're used to knowing it) is no more. Instead, there's a new mamma in the house and they have to decide whether they will warm up to the idea of picking her instead to chew their food for them. 

Can you picture it though? Zille "mamma-bird" feeding you while Ramphele gives you that supportive glance? Really, the only thing missing would be the South African version of Maya Angelou, waiting to recite an ode about it … written on the spot. Of course.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories