South Africa

Agang launch offers a (slightly) better idea of the future path

By Khadija Patel 24 June 2013

The launch on Saturday cost “a helluva lot of money”, according to senior party officials of Agang SA. It certainly was money well spent: a few thousand people listened intently to a passionate Mamphela Ramphele laying down her challenge to government. By KHADIJA PATEL.

Volunteers at Agang SA’s launch this weekend did not take kindly to comparisons of the new party’s punctuality to the ANC’s reputation for tardiness. “Play nice,” one volunteer remarked crossly while distributing the text of Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s speech. The former Chancellor of the University of Cape Town was about to speak after a delay of 90 minutes. The official explanation for the delay was the late arrival of some Agang supporters by bus. There were, however, sufficient hints of a “possible surprise” from the party’s media handlers during the delay to suggest that the upper echelons of the party were waiting for someone in particular to arrive.

As it happened, there was no such surprise. There were, however, thousands of  people who had travelled from as far afield as the Eastern Cape to participate in Agang’s inaugural rally.

Ramphele spoke compellingly about the need for change in the South African political scene.

“Our country has reached a crossroads and I for one do not want to think about where we will be in five years time unless we change course,” she said.

The party, which has purportedly already accrued more than 5,000 members, is due to host an elective conference later this year.

“We have an interim constitution which is currently being updated, which will include speaking to our members in provinces,” Agang policy director Mills Soko said, adding that the party had already developed a number of documents related to discipline and the code of conduct expected of its members.

While the endorsement of Agang SA from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has certainly given the party a boost, the party itself is still centred around Ramphele. She has, however, promised that the party will be strengthened by experienced politicians in the coming months.

“There are many experienced parliamentarians and battle-hardened activists who will join our national and provincial leadership in the coming months,” she said.

The party has been launched on the strength of Ramphele’s reputation, her history and her recognition of the concerns of and troubles of South Africa’s upwardly mobile population. But as the party attempts to forge an identity for itself, defining who it represents and what it stands for, it is still the cult of Ramphele’s personality that drives Agang forward.

“In step with our country’s history, I have travelled the long road from student activist to medical doctor, university executive, to global public servant at the World Bank,” Ramphele said during her speech on Saturday.

Many Agang supporters Daily Maverick spoke to on Saturday insisted that Ramphele, for them, represented someone who had the ability to remedy the country’s ills, somebody with the necessary experience to make the decisions that would set the country on a more prosperous path.

While the party’s policy positions have not yet been finalised, the focus will centre on education, corruption, unemployment, healthcare and crime.

“We have done our polling and that is what is helping us shape our strategy,” Soko said.

He said the party would continue its internal polling processes as it determined its policies.

The National Development Plan, a product of an ANC government that is also championed by the opposition Democratic Alliance, is described by Soko to serve as an inspiration for Agang’s policy positions.

“It’s a well-crafted document,” Soko said.

“Our approach to policy is very pragmatic,” he added. “It’s not about ideology, it’s not about doctrine.”

And yet, from Ramphele’s speech, the thrust of that policy is already evident.

“Together we can build an economy that works for all South Africans, not just the powerful and politically connected,” she said. “We can set a stable course and that will unlock domestic and foreign investment, fuelling growth.”

But Agang is not interrogating the existing techniques used to fix the economy. By waiving away “ideology” and addressing its poll results with the very techniques currently being used, Agang is not necessarily avoiding falling into an ideology.

A focus on healthcare, education and unemployment is not new in South African politics. While Ramphele was articulate and certainly did rouse the crowd gathered at the Tshwane Events Centre, Agang is positioning itself to be better at implementing the same plan that has already been devised. DM

Photo: Mamphela Ramphele at  Agang’s launch. (Greg Nicolson)

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