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Johannesburg - Will respected anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele launch a fully-fledged new political party? Will she announce a broad platform for dialogue? Or will she simply kick off a campaign to overhaul South Africa’s electoral system as she intimated last year?
Sources close to Ramphele remained determinedly tight-lipped on Friday as speculation intensified ahead of a major announcement to be made by Ramphele on Monday.
Earlier this week, journalists were alerted that the academic, author and a former managing director of the World Bank will make a statement “regarding her political plans” at the Women’s Jail on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg at 11am on Monday.
On Tuesday, Ramphele resigned as chairwoman of Gold Fields “to further her socio-economic and political work”’.
Ramphele has, in recent months, been scathingly critical of the ANC and of President Jacob Zuma – and, in an address at the Mining Indaba earlier this month, lashed out at Zuma for using taxpayers’ money for a security upgrade at his home in Nkandla.
Earlier this week, The New Age newspaper reported sources close to Ramphele saying the press conference would see the launch of a broad “platform for dialogue” and not a new political party – but that the platform for dialogue could be the precursor to the launch of a new party.
Last year Ramphele announced that she would, this year, embark on a joint campaign to overhaul South Africa’s electoral system as suggested by a 2003 report by a commission headed by the late Frederick van Zyl Slabbert. She said the Citizens Movement, which she launched last year with the intention of deepening democracy and promoting active citizenry, would work with other civil society movements to conduct the campaign.
Asked to comment on Friday on what direction Ramphele’s announcement would take, her public relations adviser, Mark Peach, said: “I absolutely cannot do that. The announcement will be made clear on Monday.”
Meanwhile, opposition parties represented at Parliament have voiced mixed feelings about another political party, with some saying, while good for democracy, another party could fracture the opposition.
“We look forward to seeing what Dr Ramphele is proposing – whether it is an umbrella organisation or a political party,” DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said. “(She) has spoken about a platform in the past and she has also spoken about the need for the fractured opposition to be unified. A new political party would worry me as we already have quite a number … but it would make me happy in the sense that it gives us another coalition partner come election time.”
Cope leader Mosiua Lekota said while it was difficult to speculate on Ramphele’s exact plans, he welcomed her decision to go into politics full time. “I wish her well.
She is such a capable woman – and we need all the capable men and women we can get to come into politics; to give us the best that is available.”
However, Lekota said, the reason oppositions had formed a coalition of opposition parties in Parliament was because “we need fewer political parties and more collaboration”.
“We don’t need a proliferation (of parties)… as it causes fragmentation… That is why we are busy building unity among opposition parties.”
Lekota said once there was clarity on which direction Ramphele would take, opposition parties would engage with her on how to work together to strengthen the opposition. “’She has expressed herself clearly on the fact that she does not like the direction the ruling party is taking the country. We are on the same platform, but just how she intends to make her contributing, either with or without collaborating with us… we have to wait to hear. We are confident that the way we are working and the capacity to join forces as opposition parties can only increase and make us more effective than if we remain isolated from each other.”’
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he believed a new party under Ramphele would be good for democracy. “I wish her well. We are on the same wavelength,” he said.
“Whether we co-operate with her in the future or not is another matter – but I believe that the more voices in opposition the better.”
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said he welcomed anybody that could make a contribution to politics in South Africa.
“Clearly she is capable of making a contribution, but she must make sure her contribution does not divide us. I look forward to hearing what role she will play to help South Africa in the right direction.”
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said Ramphele would bring new credibility to the body politic of South Africa but warned that, if she was to form a new political party, she would have to move fast in time for the elections next year.