Anti- apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele recently announced that she will challenge Jacob Zuma for South Africa’s top office this year. Ramphele, a former member of the troubled Agang SA party, will run on the Democratic Alliance (DA) ticket, making her the DA’s first Black nominee for the Presidency.
Ramphele is a longtime activist and former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town. She was also the partner of Black consciousness leader Steve Biko. Ramphele and Biko had two children together before he was beaten to death while in police custody in 1977. If she defeats President Zuma, Ramphele will become South Africa’s first female president.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said Ramphele’s candidacy is a game-changer for South Africa.
“I can think of no better person to be our presidential candidate in this crucial election,” said Zille. “This is a game-changing moment for South Africa.”
Ramphele agreed: “I believe this decision is in the best interests of South Africa as we head into turbulent waters. The death of Nelson Mandela has changed many things for South Africa.”
She continued: “Today is another astonishing moment in what we offer the people of South Africa, and once again the world. A moment to once again glimpse the greatness that is in us.”
Ramphele and the Democratic Alliance will have a difficult time beating President Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC). In year’s past, Ramphele called the DA “the white party,” but it has been steadily gaining traction among South Africa’s Black majority. Ramphele said her candidacy will remove the question of race and allow each candidate to be judged on the merits.
“We are going to take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance. We are taking away that race card and putting it in the dustbin.”
Despite the Zille’s optimism, not everyone in the Democratic Alliance feels Ramphele’s candidacy is a good move.
Eusebius McKaiser, a political analyst and author of the forthcoming book Could I Vote DA? condemned the party’s leadership for demonstrating “incredible insecurity” about its ability to win support. “If they were confident, why would they need to court the leader of another party?”
He added: “It is a tactical misstep on the part of the DA. It won’t cost them votes but it will cost them internal tensions. Not everyone in the party agrees with it, including senior black members I’ve spoken to.”
Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ANC, has also dismissed the announcement: “It’s a rent-a-leader and a rent-a-black-face.”
Nomboniso Gasa, an academic and an Agang SA member, criticized Ramphele for deserting the party: “I do think Mamphela has been extremely untidy in the way she’s dealt with this. I don’t think she’s been as open as she could have been. It raises questions about how she understands political leadership and it makes me uncomfortable. She has a problem of credibility because she told people one thing and she’s doing a completely different thing.”
According to the Guardian, Mamphela Ramphele is a medical doctor, academic, and former World Bank managing director and mining company executive. Last year she disclosed her net worth is approximately 55 million rand (nearly $5 million).