Mamphela Ramphele finally launched her political organisation, Agang, on Monday to mixed responses. The smaller parties welcomed another player in the game. The ANC and its alliance partners played down the threat to their dominance. But one thing was unanimous: we need more details. By GREG NICOLSON.
The African National Congress (ANC) welcomed Mamphela Ramphele’s initiative like one an athlete addressing a rival, relishing the challenge but asserting dominance. “We welcome her to the political environment and we hope that she has the necessary staying power. We will meet her where it matters most –in the hearts and minds of our people,” said spokesperson Jackson Mthembu in a statement. He argued that while Ramphele listed South Africa’s problems, she failed to show how she could lead the country any better than the ANC. “Whilst Dr Ramphele rehashes the known challenges facing our country, she does not bring any new suggestions to the table,” said Mthembu.
The ANC’s alliance partners joined in the criticism. “We don’t know what it is. We don’t know how it differs from any other political party. We don’t know what it stands for,” Communist Party spokesperson Malesela Maleka told Daily Maverick. He said there is huge confusion over what was launched – a political party or a party platform? Maleka said the SACP has not been in discussions with Ramphele because the party doesn’t believe she agrees with its principles. Asked what percentage of the 2014 election vote Agang could muster, Maleka said, “We shouldn’t waste our time speculating about things that may not happen.”
Cosatu’s criticism was more personal. Spokesman Patrick Craven said Ramphele’s opening speech came with “the inevitable political demagoguery” and “offered no solutions to the triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality but was a manifesto for neoliberalism”. Craven questioned Ramphele’s legitimacy and said the new party’s economic policies mirror those of the Democratic Alliance. “What can we expect from someone who was a managing director of the World Bank from 2000 to 2004 and the chairperson of Gold Fields from 2010 until she suddenly resigned just days before her Agang announcement?
“How seriously can we take someone who has just stepped down as head of a big, ruthless, exploitative mine employer when she talks of ‘our legacy of the exclusionary economic and political systems that continue to characterise the primary sectors of mining and agriculture’,” asked Craven.
The DA’s Mmusi Maimane was more positive. “It will be helpful for our democracy,” said Maimane, the party’s spokesperson and deputy federal chair. He said the DA’s campaign is the “realignment of politics” and welcomed the similarities between Agang and DA principles – the desire for a capable state, a market-based economy, non-racialism, defence of the constitution, and mobilising on values other than religion and identity.
The DA was said to be in consultations with Ramphele about her entry into politics but negotiations collapsed when she reportedly wanted the DA to disband and form a new, joint structure. Speaking in the Women’s Jail museum at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, Ramphele said she will try to consult all South Africans about her new party. Maimane said it’s too early to talk of any alliance between Agang and the DA. “It’s too early to tell because she only launched her platform today. We don’t oppose that, but it’s not something we feel that we now know how to work out now.”
If Agang shares values with the DA, but comes with a prominent black leader, won’t it take votes from Helen Zille’s party? Maimane suggested not. “[A party] doesn’t get built overnight,” he said, suggesting the DA’s party machinery and preparation would hold it in good stead. “The same question could be asked of Cope. The same question could be asked of the UDM. To win an election takes machinery. So it’s up to who will turn out their voters in the droves that will make the difference.”
United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa was another notable to welcome Ramphele into politics. “The UDM welcomes the decision by Dr Mamphela Ramphele to form a new ‘party political platform’ to help build a united and prosperous South Africa. We look forward to working with Dr Ramphele in our efforts to build a strong political alternative for the people of South Africa,” Holomisa said in a statement.
Speaking in Cape Town on Monday, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi also welcomed Ramphele’s announcement. “The IFP welcomes Dr Ramphele’s contribution through this new party, as it will serve to boost the opposition’s ranks in our fight for our fledgling democracy, the rule of law, the sovereignty of our Constitution and our joint efforts to stop corruption, which has become the bane of our country,” said Buthelezi. “The IFP looks forward to working with Dr Ramphele as we join hands on our journey to fulfill our hopes, dreams and vision of a truly prosperous South Africa for all its people.”
Buthelezi’s comments are telling. Welcoming Ramphele are the minority parties who think democracy is under attack and corruption has rendered the ANC government ineffective. The critics are the organisations in power, claiming the leading role in the anti-Apartheid struggle and arguing that the ANC has made strides as a democratic government and is best placed to continue leading the fight against key challenges.
In just a day, it seems, Ramphele has managed to find at least a semblance of solidarity among the opposition parties. At some point, however, she will need to offer more policy details, a sure way to rile a few of her new friends. But until that happens, she has a better chance of poaching party members and forming alliances. Let the games begin. DM
Photo: Mamphela Ramphele launched her new political party platform, Agang, in Johannesburg at the old Women’s Gaol at Constitution Hill on Monday. Greg Nicolson
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas