OPINION: Why I voted for Mamphela Ramphele (and why I’m not sorry I did)

I remember the first time I voted. It was in Grahamstown in 1994. I had just got married for the first time and we returned from honeymoon to cast our votes at the City Hall in the heart of Settler Country. Just like everywhere else, the crowd was festive: South Africa was having one of those days that generally only happens in beer commercials.

Voting in London
Quentin Wray’s inked thumb, and his son, after voting in London on 30 April 2014

If memory serves we had a braai and a few beers afterwards.

Like many liberal whites I voted African National Congress (ANC), convinced that they would be the party to take the country forward. And I still believe that democratic South Africa’s early years vindicated that decision.

My choices have been less simple since then but I still vote at every opportunity I get. Too many gave too much for me not to.

On April 30 this year I voted for the fourth time, having missed out in 2004 as I had lost my ID book and had not yet registered in Gauteng.

Like thousands of other UK-based Saffers I trundled through to South Africa House to cast my vote and do my bit to help decide the future of my country.

Two things differentiated my experience from that of most of my fellow expat voters on that day: firstly, I had my young son with me in a push chair so I didn’t have to queue for very long; and secondly, when I was in the booth, I didn’t vote for the Democratic Alliance (DA). I voted for Mamphela Ramphele instead.

I knew at the time that she had kiboshed any real chance her fledgling party had at the polls with her disastrously ill-fated and incredibly badly handled flirtation with the Democratic Alliance, and that AgangSA was never going to fulfil its early promise.

So why did I vote for somebody I was convinced was going to do badly?

Let’s start by examining why I didn’t vote for the parties that did well.

I simply couldn’t bring myself to vote for the ANC. The reasons are legion and extend far deeper than the Nkandla scandal. At the heart of my disquiet with the ruling party is its terrifying arrogance.

While I find corruption hard to stomach, it is far more palatable to me than the fact that being caught gorging on public funds means less than zero in the eyes of party bosses – unless, of course, you are out of favour in which case an example will be made of you.

Politicians in other democracies steal and abuse public funds too but at least they show the electorate the respect of trying to hide it and, if they get caught, stepping down. As Zwelinzima Vavi put it a year or two ago, ANC shouldn’t stand for Absolutely No Consequences.

Although the ANC is correct when it points to the good it has done over the past 20 years, it never addresses the question about how much better it could have done if it were more concerned about the people it governs than its internal political and wealth accumulation programmes.

I also see the damage the ANC is now doing with the support that it has and would hate to see what it would do if it had more.

My reasons for not voting DA are a bit different. I agree with much of what the party says and, if I had had a provincial vote (which foreign-based voters don’t get) and was in a province where they had any chance of winning, I might have put my antipathy aside to try and send them into provincial government.

The core of my disquiet with the DA is that I think that they put people who think like me at the front of the queue. The young members of the party that I have met tend to remind of the private schoolboys I grew up and went to school with and the older ones remind me of the people my mom plays bridge with. This would be enough to secure my vote anywhere else but, in a country like South Africa, I don’t want to be anybody’s key demographic.

And don’t point to the party’s black leaders and say that this proves that this isn’t the case – middle class black people are just as capable of being snobs as whites are.

I would far rather be left to fend for myself, which I am more than capable of doing, and have people in charge who genuinely care about the poor and dispossessed. I want a government that will focus on making the lives of poor people better without ruining mine in the process.

The only other big contender was Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). I am a fan of political plurality and I considered voting for him as a protest vote. But as interesting as he is going to make parliament over the next five years, presuming of course that his legal woes don’t catch up with him and see him heading off to another form of state-funded living, I couldn’t do it. He is just too destructive.

As British comedian Stewart Lee said about the UK Independence Party (UKIP): “Voting for [them] as a ‘protest vote’ is like shitting in your hotel bed to protest bad service and then realizing you have to sleep in a shitty bed.”

I don’t believe one word that comes out of Malema’s mouth and I am convinced he is exploiting genuine grievances for his own selfish ends. I also think that were he ever to be given any real power we would all – black, white, rich, poor, and everyone in the middle – regret it a great deal.

So that left Mamphela Ramphele. I voted for her because I believe that she is sincere, albeit hopelessly naïve. I have also seen that good can be done by MPs in very small parties. All one has to do is look at how effective Helen Suzman and Patricia De Lille were when they were in parliament with very little party machinery behind them.

I believe that Ramphele will be a strident and independent voice who, because she won’t have to answer to the diktats of a large party machinery, will be able to speak out as her conscience dictates. Even though she barely scraped in I am still happy with my choice.

I just hope she doesn’t let me down. I’m running out of options here.

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Quentin Wray is a senior financial journalist, editor and publisher with a wealth of experience running some of the biggest news operations in South Africa. He has edited Business Report, the national financial daily that is part of the Independent Newspapers stable and has more than 1 million daily readers, been the general manager of Independent Online (IOL), South Africa’s second largest digital news provider, and been group executive editor of Business Day and Financial Mail, the best of South Africa’s economic and financial publications. Prior to becoming a journalist Quentin was an accountant for 10 years, serving articles at Deloitte in Zimbabwe and working in a variety of institutions. He moved to the UK with his family in December 2013. In the small amount of spare time that his sons allow him, Quentin is a keen fly fisherman, an avid reader and an ardent Springbok, Protea and Arsenal supporter.