Cape Town 130128 Mamphela Ramphele with Helen Zille at the Townhouse Hotel in Cape Town. Mamphela Ramphele was anounced as the DA presidencial candidate for the 2014 elections. Photo by Michael Walker

The DA are lucky that Mamphela Ramphele has now twice spurned them, says Eusebius McKaiser.

Johannesburg - Yesterday, DA leader Helen Zille – bless her alleged Botox – asked me sulkily on Twitter why I’ve not started my own party yet if I don’t like the current ones.

I suffered immense and instant Catholic guilt when I read that tweet. That despite the fact that I had rejected Catholicism long before Richard Dawkins made atheism sexy.

I did not know how to break the news to Zille that I start parties all the time but just never invite her. In fact, I’m still recovering from a huuuuuuge party I started on Thursday night.

Fortunately for my no-longer-young, 34-year-old body, Thursday night’s party only lasted as long as the would-be merger between AgangSA and the DA had lasted. In other words, a few hours max, officially killed last night.

DAGang is now politically late, but its after-effects still float around like a tragicomic Shakespearean apparition.

Zille’s tweet of course is instructive. It exemplifies a general DA inability to be self-reflexive, including a marriage that was a non-starter. Faced with a critical interlocutor – call her, say, Simphiwe Dana for argument’s sake – it is easier to make the critic the problem than to introspect and engage.

And worse: easier to pretend that the critic was all along never open to persuasion.

This party needs more than a shift in tone; it needs to change a dominant attitude that assumes an uncertain voter or an ANC voter is beyond the pale.

But this is hard. It will require senior leaders like Zille to stop making cheap, adversarial moves when engaging critics.

The latest blunder of course was the utterly politically irrational decision to have made Mamphela Ramphele the DA’s presidential candidate.

Several sources say a donor who gives money to both parties forced them to sit down and try to join forces. Zille could resist the donor because the DA isn’t cash-strapped. But Ramphele had less financial room to resist the pressure. And you thought only the ANC has a noxious relationship with money?

But why Zille didn’t resist is interesting. She is insecure about the chances of the DA achieving its 30 percent electoral target without a senior black African leader with Struggle credentials. So she turned to Mamps. And with the donor pressure, Mamps obliged.

This made no sense at all from the DA’s perspective. It told me, as a voter open to persuasion and keen to see ANC complacency be dealt with, that they were anxious about selling their non-racial politics to me.

Secretly, you are admitting you know I am race-obsessed as a South African, hey Helen? So you throw a black face at me to seal the deal, to help me solve my dilemma.

Ha! A trick that was about as convincing as Ramphele issuing a statement to Agang supporters denying that she was about to abandon them.

I wonder, after last night’s fallout, whether they will accept her back?

Here’s free advice: being black is necessary but not sufficient to excite me. I want, as voter, to have my cake and eat it. Because I can.

Yes, I’d love to vote for a black-led opposition party, but don’t patronise me by thinking any black person will win me over. My identity politics is complex.

If it wasn’t, I’d be wearing Cope, UDM, IFP or ID T-shirts with gay abandon. But a party must offer me more than a black African presidential candidate.

It needs to show a deep commitment to substantive equality including an unambiguous commitment to race-based affirmative action programmes to overcome the consequences of racial apartheid.

It needs to distinguish class injustices from racial injustices and address both, rather than pretending that one – class injustices – covers all our prejudices.

It needs to not shout at me, not psychologise my resistance to vote for you easily, nor assume I am irrational in my reasoning about politics.

The DA is panicking. Zille wanted to have less pressure on her after the election and hoped that a Ramphele could succeed her so that the leadership can finally accept that she (Zille) is tired of leading.

More subtly still, the dream is to open up the possibility of leaders with greater gravitas, like a Trevor Manuel, following a Ramphele to the DA.

But given that Ramphele had proved a political disaster – dull communicator, no distinctive ideology, no signature policies, dissing the DA and then joining it, no traction on the ground – she was the wrong bait to use to secure my up-for-grabs vote, let alone inspire defections from ANC leaders.

Why the federal executive bunch didn’t revolt is beyond me. Or it is simple: they fear Zille (with few exceptions), and share Zille’s lack of confidence in the DA being able to get 30 percent of the vote. Shame, man.

The DA are lucky that Ramphele has now twice spurned them. Don’t be stupid, Zille, and give her a third bite at your cherry. Find a black leader who will appeal to the uncertain voter.

Luthuli House must be rejoicing. They enjoy the gift of an anxious opposition.

* Eusebius McKaiser’s new book, Could I Vote DA?, hits bookshop shelves this week.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star