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Africa

Ralph Mathekga: "signals a threat to the ANC"

South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has merged with Mamphela Ramphele's political party Agang. The ANC should be concerned, says political analyst Ralph Mathekga.

DW: How do you assess this merger?

Ralph Mathegka: Well, it is quite a surprising turn of events, because there were intimations some months ago, before Agang was formed, that Mamphela Ramphele might join forces with the DA, but she had still dismissed that then and went on to form her own political platform, which came to be known as Agang and which she has actually spent a lot of time defining, trying to give South Africans a sense of the identity of that party. And as South Africans were about to understand what this party is all about, we have now had this turn of events that actually they are going to merge with the Democratic Alliance, one of South Africa's longstanding opposition parties.

There is a discontent - if one observes through what is going on in the social media in South Africa and also some of the interviews that were done across different media - there is a concern by some of the Agang members that they were not consulted. Also there is almost a suspicion as to what the intentions behind this merger are. Is it because Mamphela Ramphele is aware that her platform is not sustainable, because a few weeks ago there were reports that they were having financial difficulties in sustaining the political party?

So it actually means that you are going to have less commotion and less competition within the opposition camp, but it is not very clear whether the general public are going to receive this measure very well, given the fact that Mamphela Ramphele has defined herself against the DA since she has entered South Africa's political landscape.

Will this move change the minds of many South Africans who oppose the ruling ANC but did not see the DA as an alternative?

It is going to take a lot of work on the side of those who just signed the merger, that is Agang and the DA, to explain themselves in the public space, so that this merger can be received well. Because those who supported Agang until today, those who have seen it as a political home, were aware of other alternative political parties. They could have joined the Democratic Alliance if they wanted to, but they did not do so. They had stuck with Agang, and they had supported Agang. And now Agang has joined the DA. So possibly there will be those who are disgruntled. And I believe that those who are disgruntled with this merger will go and join parties such as EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters), which seems to be an alternative opposition within the opposition camp. And those who perhaps were indifferent about the DA and Agang - and were not sure which to join - might be seen floating to this new entity after the merger. But that stands to be seen, and it depends a lot on the narrative and the explanation that is going to be given by the leadership of these two parties.

Why did Zille or the DA decide to merge with Agang?

It is almost an obvious explanation in South Africa that the DA's growth strategy focuses a lot on the black middle class and the larger group of black unemployed youth. Unfortunately, the DA is known to be a white party which cannot really connect to the black middle class or the larger, the growing number of unemployed young black people. With Agang as a member of the DA and also Mamphela's political credentials as someone who comes from the black consciousness movement, the DA can use those credentials to extend a hand to the black middle class and the growing number of younger black unemployed people.

So for the DA, this brings in a potential to reach out to the black voters much better. As for Agang, it was an untested party. They were having problems. It's all about political survival for them.

And how big a threat is the newly formed opposition alliance to ANC dominance?

Well, whenever opposition parties find common ground to meet, that automatically signals a threat to the ANC, because you are therefore going to consolidate the opposition vote. It is no longer as fragmented as was the case when the two parties existed independently. So if these two parties, after the merger, do great work in convincing potential voters, if they can strike that narrative that they can do a better job, I believe that the ANC should be concerned.

Ralph Mathekga is a South African political analyst.

Interview: Asumpta Lattus

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