Opinionista Gushwell Brooks 19 May 2014

Sorry, Dr Ramphele, but applause isn’t votes

The ANC’s ‘good story to tell’ might be met with cynicism in some quarters, but Agang’s is even worse: it’s fast turning into no story to tell. What a massive anticlimax its journey has been.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Daily Maverick’s Gathering this year. We were treated to watching Malusi Gigaba, Helen Zille and Mamphela Ramphele attempt to convince South Africa’s movers and shakers why their parties deserved our votes. The EFF, unfortunately, was not there: Julius Malema had declined the invitation.

As the primary salesman for the governing party, Gigaba was given the cold shoulder, being vociferously heckled by some in the audience, despite his best possible “good story to tell” sales pitch. Zille’s speech was received in silence, but when the Good Doctor took to the podium, methought our future president was speaking.

Loud applause and cheers gave me the impression that this was the leader South Africa had been waiting for; that maybe South Africa needed a hero and my prior analysis was completely off.  However, a moment of scepticism prompted me to tweet:  “@GushwellBrooks wonders if applause translates to votes? Good points made by @MamphelaR, but again, do people trust her with their vote? #DMGathering.”

By Saturday, 10 May, we got our answer. People only trusted her and her party with two parliamentary seats. So what happened to all the applause, media attention and that Obama feeling of “Yes we can”?

To her credit, the Good Doctor identified very articulately the source of so many of South Africa’s woes. Whether she was wearing her civil society or political party leader hat, she spoke very well on issues that concerned us all: poor education, the need for greater development, increased public participation, poverty and unemployment. What Gigaba, Zille and all her other political rivals understood, though, was the fact that a sales pitch needs so much more than just being able to pinpoint what the problems are. What solutions does your untested product bring to the table? As politically unsophisticated as South Africans have been accused of being, we want to know why we should vote for you, rather than why we should not vote for the other guys.

Policy extends beyond the identification of what is wrong with the system. People elect leadership for leadership, and in as much as we as citizens would like our voices heard, and a far more inclusive government, leaders are elected on the basis that they will deal with our needs systematically. So if I’m living in a shack, as quickly as I would like to be provided with a brick-and-mortar house, I’d also like to know that as my government, you would ensure that my children receive a good education, that my aged parents have access to decent healthcare and that at some stage you will either give me a job, or alternatively create the conditions for employment, if not sustainable entrepreneurship. Quite frankly, I do not need a Dr Phil session, where I know that someone heard my primary concern and seemingly only has one response to it: a reminder that so much else is wrong with the system.

What the Good Doctor did at the Daily Maverick’s Gathering, and for the preceding year during her ascent to prominence on the political scene, was to pave the way for the opposition. She did Zille and Malema the biggest favour by outlining the failures of the incumbent. All that the opposition had to do was what she failed at – to tell South Africans what they offer as an alternative. It clearly worked, considering that a party that is a few months younger than hers caught the attention of the disaffected masses, and as radical and as scary as their “reforms” might be, twenty-three of them are heading to Parliament. As for the DA, they have even more seats in Parliament, and the ANC are concerned at the loss of their two-thirds majority; left licking their wounds after haemorrhaging votes.

One thought that struck me as I was sitting in the Lyric Theatre on that crisp April morning, was that Ramphele really didn’t say anything particularly new; that the people applauding and cheering the Good Doctor would vote DA anyway, because Zille managed to do what she failed to do: give a solution.

Granted, two seats in Parliament do not give you much impact. You are about as effective as fart in a perfume factory, but you have the one thing that those that stuck by you and voted for you lack, namely a voice. Of the 52,350 people that voted for Agang SA, people voted not just for some amorphous political entity, but they voted for a person and what she represented as well. Considering that she had not given any other leader of the party any time under the spotlight of the political prominence stage, it is a little disconcerting that she is ditching her party now and not taking up a seat in Parliament. Her failure to make it to Parliament is supposedly as a result of fatigue.

Maybe fatigue is new-speak for disappointment. I am certain that if the Good Doctor had stuck by her sudden marriage with the DA as their presidential candidate, or had a significant number of seats in the National Assembly or – since we are on this whirlwind journey into Imaginationland – won the elections and ascended to president, she may magically not have been quite so fatigued. Either way, it does not bode well. If she had to take time out as a serious contender in Parliament due to fatigue, well, she ditches an entire nation. If she stuck it out, well then, it would have been what I thought it was all along: all about her.

So, Doctor Ramphele, assuming you read the musings of some little-known talk show host, you did not just disappoint 52,350 voters; you disappointed an entire nation. In giving you the benefit of the doubt, many of us assumed that you could be a pragmatic voice of opposition in Parliament, that broom that at least tries to clean up the National Assembly. Some of us thought that you could perhaps even correct your past mistakes and actually grow leadership beyond yourself and turn Agang into a decent voice of opposition with broad appeal. But we should have known better. You never gave us any real policy but for educational reform, a plan with a twelve-year projection, one that does not quell the anger brewing here and now. You were quick to parachute into another party as their presidential candidate, despite your lack of consultation with your own party.

Why, then, are we surprised that you are now too fatigued to continue your political career, with only two seats in Parliament? See why people have lost faith in heroes and are more and more taking matters into their own hands, with horrible consequences at times? What good is a hero, if they don’t have a good story to tell about themselves? DM



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