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How real is Roger Jardine as SA opposition’s next big hope?

How real is Roger Jardine as SA opposition’s next big hope?
Illustrative image: Former FirstRand chair Roger Jardine. (Photo: Gallo Images / Business Day / Martin Rhodes)

There’s been much speculation that the Multi-Party Charter is looking for a single presidential candidate — and that person could be the former FirstRand chair Roger Jardine. While this will encourage those who believe a grand coalition is needed to unseat the ANC, most of the Multi-Party Charter’s problems will remain.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that former FirstRand chair Roger Jardine had met with senior leaders from the DA, including its leader, John Steenhuisen, and Federal Council chair, Helen Zille. The conversations reportedly included the proposal that Jardine could be the presidential candidate for the grouping of opposition parties which the DA has initiated.

Jardine has not publicly committed to anything. But, the fact that he has resigned as chair of the FirstRand Group, together with some of his public comments, has led to speculation that he wants to enter politics.

At the same time, it is clear that one of the main aims of this movement of parties is to inspire the electorate. In an election where turnout will be vital, having the right person could make all the difference.

The ANC’s presidential candidate, the incumbent, Cyril Ramaphosa, carries significant baggage. If the opposition parties can show their candidate is clean compared to the man at the centre of the Phala Phala scandal, a man seemingly unable to “renew” his party, this could be significant.

However, finding this person will be extremely difficult.

As Professor William Gumede, the convener of the Multi-Party Charter, has told Daily Maverick, this person would have to bring “shock and awe” to voters. They would have “to be someone who has more support than anyone inside the group. Someone who would give an electoral bump by themselves.”  

Such a person would have to appeal to a vastly diverse constituency. Even just within the Charter grouping, they would have to appeal to parties as diverse as the Freedom Front Plus and the IFP.

They would also need to have significant name recognition — if they do not need to be introduced to the electorate, that would be a vital fillip.

Probably the only person with most of these attributes and whose public polling indicates they are very popular is former president Thabo Mbeki.

Presumably, he is unavailable. (And he is 81 — Ed.)

Our politics is difficult, complex and very, very rough, and the scale of the incoming electoral battle will be immense. 

Anyone wanting to take on the ANC, to be the face of the fight against it would have to harbour absolute resolve, be able to bridge the contradictions between the different constituencies of the parties in the group, and be financially secure.

Almost any other job in SA would be easier than this one.

Such a person may not exist.  

But it is also not clear that bringing in a person new to politics is a good idea. 

The precedents

It has been tried before. In 2009, Cope was unable to resolve its leadership disputes between Mbhazima Shilowa and Mosiuoa Lekota. To get around this, it asked Bishop Mvume Dandala to be its presidential candidate.

While Cope did get more than a million votes in that election, Dandala left the party very soon afterwards.

In 2014, the DA parachuted Mamphela Ramphele in from another party, Agang, as its presidential candidate. Just days later it all fell apart, with much acrimony.

There is a structural reason why this has not worked. Successful politicians have patiently built constituencies through political machinery that takes time, money and resources.

Usually, they come to power by mastering the existing political machinery. Former President Jacob Zuma is the perfect example of this. He would have found it impossible to build any kind of political machinery by himself; he needed the ANC to achieve his goals. Ditto Ace Magashule.

A successful populist like Donald Trump, who only won primary contests in the Republican Party to eventually become president of the US (and may do it again), could jump straight to the top of a big party, but it is the peculiar winner-takes-all structure of the US’s two-party democracy that allows those long shots. Ross Perot, who contested as a third-party candidate, lost both times without winning a single electoral seat.

The closest example to us is Lesotho, where the businessman Sam Matekane was able to form a political party and only seven months later win the national elections. 

However, our society is much bigger, more diverse and complicated. There are many more players and it is defined by its inequality and thus its economic, ethnic, linguistic and regional diversity.

Also, given the history of the DA in this regard, that party’s critics may claim that this is all about trying to solve the same fundamental problem it has had since its formation in 2000 — which is that the party is desperate for a black leader. These critics may cruelly point to how the party has tried Mamphele and Mmusi Maimane, and suggest bringing Jardine on could be just another attempt to solve the same problem.

While the DA and other members of the Multi-Party Charter movement would dispute that, this claim will still sting.

Of course, those behind Jardine’s presumed bid are likely to have done their homework. They may say that the real problem is to convince voters that it is worth their while to come out and vote against the ANC — and to do that will require someone who can win broad support.

The ANC appears determined to help opposition parties wherever it can.

It is still unable to resolve load shedding, has created the mess at Transnet and can be blamed for SA’s failing water infrastructure.

Which may mean that Jardine and those around him believe that change is possible with the right leadership and the right candidate.

Only time will prove if Jardine is that candidate. What may separate him from the previous, unsuccessful, candidates is the sheer amount of money that is reportedly being collected for his run, and the rumoured “best and brightest” team being assembled to support him. DM

Full disclosure: Stephen Grootes worked as a journalist at Primedia while Roger Jardine was the company’s CEO. Grootes did not report directly to Jardine and has not had contact with him since at least 2019. 


Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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