By Natasha Marrian, 30 January 2014

The real winner in the political opposition’s game of musical chairs that played out on Tuesday is Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), at least when it comes to capturing the votes of the masses.

Agang SA, launched by Mamphela Ramphele, was set to provide a viable alternative not only to the African National Congress (ANC) but to the Democratic Alliance (DA) as well.

It is difficult not see the fact that Agang SA was weak and slow to get off the ground as the reason Ramphele jumped ship. She has revealed herself as a selfish leader, securing her own ticket to Parliament without having the decency to inform people who had joined her party.

Her words at the party launch in Tshwane in June last year now take on a vastly different meaning: “I am inspired by a burning ambition to aim higher,” she said.

Her failure to get Agang SA off the ground was an indication that she had no constituency and lacked the ability to build one.

Agang SA structures now want her expelled, which clearly shows that some are prepared to fight against an attempt to be “integrated” into the DA.

It is hard to dispute that her elevation to the position of presidential candidate for DA is a strong attempt to debunk the perception of the party as a white one.

Ramphele said on Tuesday: “It is very important to recognise that this is a historic moment where we will take away the excuse of race and allow people to be judged on their performance.” Therein lies her difficulty.

If Ramphele were to be judged on her performance in politics over the past 11 months that she has been active, she would fail dismally. Whether that will change in a ready-made political home remains to be seen.

DA leader Helen Zille certainly took a risk in catapulting Ramphele straight from the Agang SA bleachers to presidential candidate.

Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for the party to begin “co-opting” where it matters — among the masses of the people of South Africa where the ANC still holds the vast majority of support — if it is to truly become a multiracial party.

It is unclear how long it will take the DA to realise that this is where transformation really matters.

The disgruntled among this group would much rather have voted for Ramphele at the helm of a party independent of any crutches, such as Agang SA, than for her as one parachuted in with an election looming.

It is clear that there is deep frustration and disenchantment with the ANC, but South Africans largely vote for parties, rather than individuals.

Those who would not vote for the DA in the past are unlikely to do so this time around, even with Ramphele as the face of the party. This plays right into Malema’s hands.

The EFF is now the only party in the political space that provides an alternative for the vast majority of those who would not vote for either the DA or the ANC.

It is in provinces such as Gauteng that Ramphele’s effect on the DA campaign is likely to be felt — home to the middle class, intellectuals and professionals who, across the colour spectrum, find voting for the ANC under President Jacob Zuma unpalatable.

Among the middle class, Ramphele is likely to have an impact.

Her message at the launch of Agang SA certainly resonated with many.

The move for Ramphele to the DA is certainly significant, but not a game-changer, not in the short term.

The real game-changer in South African politics is taking place elsewhere and its unfolding slowly and arduously.

It is the shifts in the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

It is the move by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) to look into the prospect of forming a vanguard or workers’ party.

The decision was not based only on the rejection of a leader of the ANC, but on the party as a whole and what it has become ideologically.

This is what should keep ANC leaders awake at night.

Because from among Numsa’s fold is emerging a well-organised voice of dissent and it is growing.

  • Marrian is political editor.