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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. 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • J vN says:

    The DA’s partners are already complaining about Jardine. Who knows, in the extremely racist New!, Improved! SA, Jardine may not be black enough for them….

    • Martin Absil Absil says:

      I would think that Thuli Madonsela would be a better option as she ticks most of the boxes.

      • Charles Whaley says:

        Thuli Madonsela has made it quite clear she has no political ambitions. I would have thought her skills would be better used as a judge.

        As for Jardine – you are right – never heard of him, know nothing about him. If he’s so wonderful let him roll his sleeves up and show us. I’ve not seen anything so far that would make me vote for him.

  • I am pretty curious about this situation. It would be relieving to have a leader we can somewhat vote for.

  • Fayzal Mahamed says:

    Excellent article.
    My contention is that elections are more to do with emotions and very little to do with reason and logic. This is the reason why the DA will always lag with the majority of voters because despite their misgivings of the ANC it is tied emotionally to the party.
    Jardine will appeal to many DA voters but this appeal will be to the already converted. Stephen Grootes is right to say that there needs to be a dynamite of a person to convince the broader support and I don’t see Jardine as that person to change the emotions of voters.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      The title of this article is misleading as it focuses on Jardine but we are little the wiser after reading the article as to who Jardine is and why it is being suggested that he could be the ‘face’ of the Multiparty Coalition. This was a missed opportunity as Stephen Groote’s article was a golden opportunity to inform the electorate of who exactly is Jardine and why he is being punted as the face on the election posters.

    • Bernhard Scheffler says:


  • Rory Macnamara says:

    A bad start – the DA met with Mr Jardine – what about the other members of the Multi party group? the DA is as bad as the ANC for shooting itself in the foot!

    • Hans Strydom says:

      Nonsense, they don’t shoot themselves in the foot, the voters shoot themselves in the foot by voting ANC. Basically zero one can do when the majority make bad decisions and support crime, corruption and downright criminality. The problem is not the DA, the problem is the voters.

  • If I were the coalition, I would basically send the top brass on their hands and knees to beg Thuli Madonsela to lead. She has proven herself an able, competent leader, and most importantly, she has the trust of most South Africans who aren’t in the Jacob Zuma camp.

    • The Proven says:

      Agree on Thuli, but she may have too many scars from her stint as public protector to accept the job.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Would love to see Thuli Madonsela head up the MPC.

    • Michael Thomlinson says:

      I wonder if anyone has approached her? She would definitely be the one – honest integrity, cool calm and collected. A person to be trusted and the right colour and gender.

    • Brian Algar says:

      I think Ms. Madonsela would make an excellent President. She is honest and intelligent, something very few of our top politicians can claim to be.

    • steve woodhall says:

      I could not agree more. My only concern is that someone already asked Thuli Madonsela and she refused. I can only hope it wasn’t Helen Zille who asked. She blew all her credibility, as a person who can build coalitions, with the Mmusi Maimane, Mamphela Ramphele, and Lindiwe Mazibuko debacles. Thuli I’m sure would have said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ based on that track record.

    • steve woodhall says:

      I fear that this whole thing is going to get a lot bloodier than even the wise can foresee. I can envisage an ANC falling below 45% in the next election and casting around for a partner to stay in power. The nightmare scenario is the RET faction of the ANC joining up with the EFF and taking the rest of the party with them. What might happen is that the ANC will split down the middle with an RET/EFF coalition on one side and a ‘reasonable ANC/DA’ coalition on the other. The RET brigade is still very powerful, as I saw in a recent parliamentary public comment session on the draft Procurement Bill. ‘Not-Jimmy’ Manyi (RET kingpin who has jumped ship to the EFF) was extremely vocal and racist, and the Chair took forever to shut him up, and was ANC. A lot of ANC supporting public commenters were on the RET side.

  • jason du toit says:

    the DA’s options are:

    * siya kolisi
    * trevor noah
    * elon musk (who could just buy the election)

  • Patrick Barta says:

    This could prove a new dawn and one which could sustain a recovery of our democracy, re-build modern infrastructure resulting in job creation and economic growth.


    he simply does not have any gravitas outside of the business community and is not the high profile figure those looking for a messiah seem to want.
    Steenhuisen and his team and done an incredible job in the WC and other areas where they are active. Why should they hand they hand over the baton to an outsider when the race is nearly done?
    Our business leaders, generally, have demonstrated their cowardice dealing with the ANC so why do we even look to them as a source of talent?

  • Hilary Morris says:

    The DA has to learn that not only would it be inappropriate to wish to provide the next president, they should not attempt to choose which outsider should fulfill the role. Sadly, while they are undoubtedly the best option, with the best policies and integrity, they seem unable to ditch the unseemly arrogance that defines their image. Such a pity.

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      To not bow to identity politics could be called showing integrity rather than arrogance. Considering the DA will bring the largest number of voters to the multi party, they should have some say in who will lead the country. I do however agree that Steenhuisen is not the right person for this task.

  • Roberto Donadoni says:

    How about Vusi Thembekwayo? Proven business leader, strong critic of the ruling party and not afraid to say what needs to be said. Also has a very strong presence on social media so will bring the shock and awe required.

  • Hans Strydom says:

    Anyone except the ANC or the EFF. Just don’t vote for them, the rest will handle itself. And stop worrying about who it is, it can’t be worse than these two.

    • Ayanda Nonkwelo says:

      @Hans Strydom – A for me i know where i come from. I have experienced the worst in the past. I have been tortured and detained as an activist. So, my family and i will be voting EFF!!

      • Ben Harper says:

        Hahahahaha – no brain, no pain

        • Elizabeth Jansen van Vuuren says:

          I am amazed and disappointed that Ben Harper’s comments which are so often inane, and in some cases ‘troll-level’ rude and offensive, are so often being approved.
          What’s up with our peer moderation?

          • William Stucke says:

            I think that the primary problem, Elizabeth, is that we are unable to see comments in context, so it’s often hard to judge.

            That’s assuming that people actually read them, rather than reflexively approving. That said, I very seldom see adequate cause to disapprove a comment – at least not on the only 3 grounds allowed.

  • Louise Wilkins says:

    Why doesn’t Professor William Gumede step into the position? He seems perfect.

  • Lo-Ammi Truter says:

    How about Kgalema Motlanthe?
    Can he be persuaded to join the MPC?

  • The Country needs a non racial young leader who is free of historic corruption and who is determined to remove the ANC and get our country back on the path to prosperity

  • R S says:

    My potential candidates would be:

    Thuli Mandonsela
    Dr. Imitaz Sooliman
    Vusi Thembekwayo
    Mmusi Maimaine
    Lindiwe Mazibuko
    Chris Pappas

    There are definitely some others, but I can’t remember their names off the top of my head.

    • Greeff Kotzé says:

      Great list. Would you consider adding Zackie Achmat to it? I know his politics might not sit well with everyone involved (and the ACDP might just walk) but he has a proven ability to get things done, really solid credentials as an activist icon, and a humanist approach that would appeal to many.

      Bonus: He is already confirmed to be standing as an independent candidate for MP. It may just be best if this “consensus leader” was not a member of any of the parties in the Charter.

  • John Stephens says:

    Politically Jardine is an unknown quantity. Typical of the DA, they try and get a great captain of commerce as leader. A country cannot be run like a business. A successful businessperson unlikely to be a great or even a good statesman. My immediate reaction is that if the DA likes him, he must be a neoliberal free-market operator. Such people believe the poor ‘deserve’ to be poor and the rich deserves their riches. They should not be taxed in order to benefit those below through trickle-down economics.

    I know I might be totally wrong about the man. But being brought forward by the DA immediately tarnishes any social commitment that he may have. He would have an upward battle to prove his credentials as a social progressive, unless he has a long record of active commitment to social upliftment, support of community projects and the like.

    Bring on Thuli Madonsela. She has the credentials.

    • Brian Algar says:

      I beg to differ John. A country has to be run like a business, and what good will a great statesman be if he or she is running a bankrupt country. How do you generate money for social development programs and upliftment of the poor if the economy is a shambles. And being a “free-market operator” doesn’t mean you believe the poor deserve to be poor, or that you begrudge the benefit they get through taxes you pay. If I qualify as one of your “free-market operators” as a self-employed businessman, I can tell you from personal experience that it would give me great pleasure if my taxes were used for the benefit of those less fortunate than myself. I would however prefer not to have my hard-earned taxes used to buy Wabenzi’s and Range Rovers for the low lives that govern us and steal from the poor.

      I can concur with you on one point though. Thuli Madonsela needs to come to the rescue of South Africa and agree to stand as the Presidential candidate for the MPC.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Hahahahaha – plonker

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The problem is that the DA is undermining the Multi Party Charter as it seems that it has its own vision on how it should function. There seems to be very little consultation as the DA is just running on its own judging by what is happening in the Metros. The Multi Party Charter is going to be killed by the DA itself. To me it is too late o bring any new face in the Multi Party Charter who must still be accepted within the group and let alone by voters. To achieve such a feat you need a good three years for a person working on the ground and parties to be able to make a very serious judgement about the person. He may have been in the struggle but the new generation does not know him except those who were with him. I always make this point when people invoke a person this late. It is about who know him now and what perception d0es the electorate think of the person. It is not important what he thinks but what the electorate thinks about a person they hardly know! The conduct and the utterances of the DA is that of a senior partner in the Multi Party Charter and it is not going to work. There is no time frankly to sell Jardine no matter how much he thinks of himself.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Pay Back The Money

    • Joe Soap says:

      You and many others keep having a go at the DA – one does not know how the Jardine meeting came about but I doubt the DA approached him – more likely a suggestion from business funders of the DA. Having said that, ActionSA have said Mashaba will be their candidate – why are they not taken to task for suggesting that? FF+ have suggested the IFP leader recognising the IFP leader has more chance. They have therefore discussed potential candidates. The point is it appears the focus on criticising the DA is that it represents the largest of the opposition parties and hence represents the biggest challenge to the ANC. There is lots of focus on attacking Steenhuisen and the DA, but which of the other parties proposed the moonshot pact (ie showed leadership), now termed the Multi Party Charter – The MPC including Steenhuisen has shot down any agreement or discussion at this stage on who might be a presidential candidate. There are potential leaders amongst the rats and mice parties that have not shown which way they will jump pre election – to the ANC or to the MPC – but I am sure many of them would see their leaders as potential candidates for president.

  • dhiagan says:

    This looks like a COPE or Ramphele disaster waiting to happen. You need someone that’s charismatic and well known with the general public like Vusi Thembekwayo.

  • Keith Brown says:

    Required qualities: credentials, capability, competence and charisma. And integrity and patriotism and charm. CHERYL CAROLUS has them all in spades. Has anyone thought of her? Could she be persuaded? This might just be her time.

  • Reginald Nkadimeng says:

    Is he black Africanif not the dream is stillborn already.
    For black Aricans will not allow another race to occupy the Union Buildings.
    From bitter experience.

  • Trenton Carr says:


  • Manfred Hasewinkel says:

    It can be done if current opposition leaders realize their own limitations and control their egos. A team effort could be a game changer.

  • Eric Potgieter says:

    I believe that Trevor Manuel is the man for the job.

  • laurence Cohen says:

    My idea of a candidate started off as a joke, but the more I think about it, the more serious I’m getting about putting his name forward. The major problem is he is far too bright and his intuition is such that he would require huge persuasion to take the position.
    He has the right background, he has the perfect growing up history with mixed racial parents and upbringing. He performs an outstanding role as the “jester” much like the “jester” in King Lear. By this I mean, he uses humour to get his message across to an audience. He is immensely successful worldwide and known to many. He resonates well with Mr average South African, both black and white. He certainly has no financial concerns and is a self-made success. If in doubt about the ability to play the crowd as a comedian, one can compare him to Mr Zelinsky president of Ukraine.
    The bonus would be a completely clean, unfettered background history of virginal integrity.
    By now you should have made the connection.,…… our very own Trevor Noah.

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