Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Will Agang take off?

So Mamphela Ramphele, South Africa’s last great hope if we’re going to break the impasse of our current political landscape, which cynics might summarise as a choice between self-interested thieves and self-righteous prefects, has finally announced what we’ve suspected for some time: she’s launching a political party. Wait, not a political party, a political “platform”. A sort of placeholder for something that will contest the 2014 elections.

Well and good, but will it have any impact? Because I’m primarily a marketing strategist, and Agang is in the business of winning votes in 2014, I’m going to take a very quick look at this morning’s launch at Constitution Hill from a marketing point of view. My opinion will evolve as more information emerges, but this is my first take on the first new entrant on our political scene in some time.

First, the good: Agang got great coverage. It’s all over the news — luckily Oscar’s court appearance is tomorrow, or it would have been lost. So it has a narrow window of opportunity to make an impact before we get distracted again. Agang has a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter handle, all very necessary in an age where what happens on Twitter spreads everywhere else too. Ramphele will need the media and influencers on her side, especially as she’s asking for donations.

Here’s what I’m not so sure about:

The name. Brand names should be differentiated, memorable and meaningful. Agang scores on all three — it’s African, which is great — but fails on one important one: it lends itself to all sorts of puns on “a gang”. Already it’s being called a gang of instrumentals, jokes are being made about the Famous Five, and comparisons are being made between A gang and B gang. All of this distracts from the message and increases the likelihood that they’ll be regarded as a joke. Can you cope with a gang? etc etc.

Apparently, an alternative is “Akhani” which could conceivably be rendered in Afrikaans as “Ek kannie”, but on the whole doesn’t lend itself to unfortunate puns. Something tells me the entire concept behind this was not properly stress-tested. Ramphele herself hasn’t ruled out the possibility of it changing.

Still, it’s possible we’ll move on. After all, when the iPad launched, everybody made iTampon jokes, and those were soon forgotten as the term became generic. Maybe that will happen here.

The positioning. What is a “political platform”? A precursor to a political party, I suppose. But this was not well-understood by the journalists covering the event, who expressed irritation. If you’re loved by the media, but you manage to annoy them with your launch, you’re doing something wrong.

The target audience. Who is Ramphele going after? The poor and dispossessed? The slacktivists on Twitter who can’t bring themselves to vote for the DA? Everyone? Maybe she’s still figuring that out.

The message. Same old, same old, has been the general response. This is nothing we haven’t heard before. Ramphele’s speech was big on noble ideals, but short on practical solutions. How is she actually going to get this off the ground, beyond more talking?

Overall, this is a classic case of a launch that promised much, but failed to deliver. Ramphele set up huge expectations with her announcement, very carefully located at Constitution Hill to communicate what she wants this to be about.

If I were part of Agang, I’d have delayed the launch until they had something more solid to offer. They have one chance to get this right. Ramphele needed to kick off on a positive note and get interested people involved while everyone was on an emotional high. Instead, the overall tenor of the response has been cynicism and scepticism.

This is a huge pity, as this is supposed to be the change so many of us (myself included) have been looking for. I think it’s great that we have a new energy on the political scene, but I was wanting more. Let’s hope there is actually more substance to what, right now, seems like little more than good intentions — and we all know where those lead.

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    • http://http// Paul Whelan

      Exactly – what is a political platform if not advanced by a political party? Do we have a new party yet? Where are its offices? Who staffs them? Who is with you in this? Are you going to fight elections? When? How many candidates will you be fielding?

      Is Dr Ramphele still only testing the water ?

    • bernpm

      Interesting take on the announcement. Thanks

      I had one immediate connection with “agang”. On of the Dutch words for failure is “afgang” with a very negative connotation. I do not know if Afrikaans have a similar word.

      Second observation: Ramphela is 65 years of age. If it takes her three elections to proof her metal, she will be 80. A courageous undertaking!

      Wishing her luck and stamina. Not another Cope please.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Sarah, the people said that Obama couldn’t become president of the US because he was black and you know the rest of the story. Dr. Ramphele at her news conference said the new party was working on their platform. I think you should give this new party a chance before jumping the gun.

    • Rajiv Ishwar

      Agree that the name Agang is not quite appropriate. However, let’s give her a chance. Ramphele will at least add to the voice of the opposition & may over time influence other academics & influential parties to join her. It could be the start of a “revolution” that is much required in this country.

    • Percipient

      Agang. Aging. A gang. It’s got the phonetics of a flat tyre spinning on its rim grinding tarmac. Nice way to kick a politcal party off. Nah, wouldn’t waste my time on them, nor any other party in this place.

    • manquat

      I think that all the opposition parties need to form a coalition to face the giant. I read a newspaper article that said this was going to happen. But how? It’s really tough for the opposition to agree on certain issues. I’m sure that many DA supporters were so disappointed at Zille’s involvement with the Guptas. It seems as if politics is just a game that the gullible public are scammed by. Seems like the DA and ANC are nothing but the same corruption.

      I think that the ANC is too big to fail. They have the masses in the palm of their hands. And in a democracy the only thing that matters is if you can get the votes of the masses.
      I’m certain that Agang is going to be a flop just like cope was.

    • DeeGee

      It’s not so much ‘will Agang take off’, but ‘it has to take off’. The DA have done a decent job as opposition, but with very little credibility. Equally (and to my last point) the ANC has done a great job of entrenching racial polarisation, rendering Zille a ‘madam’ who wants to return us to Apartheid. Ramphele has good local and international support and has all the necessary struggle credentials needed to flight a credible opposition political party (these being infant times when that is still so important).

      I’d be interested to see what happens to the current DA when this platform becomes a party, as I’m sure some political opportunists will see this as an opportunity to jump ship….?

    • Rod MacKenzie

      Not just another COPE, also with an unfortunate brand name?

    • GrahamJ

      “…Same old, same old, has been the general response…
      …This is a huge pity, as this is supposed to be the change so many of us (myself included) have been looking for…”

      Says it all.

    • Ian

      @manquat “Seems like the DA and ANC are nothing but the same corruption.”

      With conclusions like this I am not sure if you are confused or just stupid, or both.

    • Hameeda

      I hope against hope that Agang will take off. We need hope and we need someone like Mamphela, who at least has some sort of vision and some intellect, for translating this vision an hope into reality and practical solutions.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Whelan, one of the things that this party has called for is reforming the electoral system, so the voters can hold the officials in the government accountable.

      @GrahamJ, the experts were saying the same thing about Obama when he ran for president the first time. He wasting his time because the US wasn’t ready for a black president. After he was elected the first time the experts were saying that he would be a one term president and look what happened. The ANC is now saying that this party is being funded by the US and they got millions from the US. The labor movement in SA got a lot of money from the US.

    • Eldi du Bluel

      Here it comes.

      Agang, Agang, Agang, Agang.

      The strange new noise of tolling bells, by inference aimed at the ears of the current and past rural dwellers. Certainly, it is not geared to entice and rope in other groups? With a name like that, it seems obvious Ramphele does not care to lasso the entire nation. That in itself, I shamelessly predict, has already pulled Agang’s plug.

      But wait … … there’s more… …

      Indications are that there is a possibility that Ramphele may very well listen to the noise, and change that hastily chosen name to get her in the running for 2014.

      Then I hope she has the savvy to consider all of us. So many possibilities are at hand, the most obvious which could just say it all and be understood by everyone dreaming of change, simply: ANSA (A New South Africa). For me, that is the ansa!!

    • Larry Lachman

      The name “Agang” may have wrong marketing connotations for minority English and Afrikaans speakers, but perhaps Ramphele is aiming at the majority – in which case there is nothing wrong with the name.

      Us ‘whiteys’ tend to forget that we are quite irrelevant in such matters.

    • http://http// Paul Whelan

      Sarah said she was looking at this as a marketing strategist. That means it is fair to take last night as a launch of something new and exciting that is intended to appeal to thousands, even millions of people. In that light, it seems fair also to say there is a general sense of something missing this morning. Not a disaster, but a ‘so what?’ In marketing terms, we weren’t told enough about the ‘product’.

      As I mention above, this may not be a bad thing. Dr R may be looking to test the waters, even be engaging in a rolling launch. She is trying to build a party, after all, not sell a new soap this morning.

      No one knows anything for sure yet; everything is only opinion. But these first opinions are still there. They will be part of the mix from now on.

    • Anne Coventry

      I find myself wondering if the plan isn’t, at a later stage, to join forces with the DA. And if that is the plan, then I think it’s clever.

      If she joined them now, she would be swallowed by them. But if she makes herself a leader in her own right of her own party, then it’s a whole new ballgame.

    • Mr. Direct

      I am curious to hear what the party will stand for, the rest is just smoke and mirrors…

    • Enough Said

      Thanks for the analysis Sarah.

      I may be wrong but I think Maphele’s sincerity, position in society, determination and personality counts for a lot, especially in a country that have lost faith in the ruling elite.

      I think most people vote for people, not many understand policy. Maybe her personality will carry the day.

    • suntosh
    • Sechaba

      I for one think this is a good start. If you listen well, there has been wide consultation and conversations with ordinary people. Mamphele wants this to be people driven and shaped by people. Self-reliance is a critical centre to this movement and its actually useless to critic it when you yourself do not know what you want. I want to contribute in building SA and make a difference. I have signed up!

    • James Brown

      Sadam Hussein Osama
      Barack Hussein Obama

      Why mention the lack of leadership, party gridlock, violence against women, corruption in a country with 11 official languages struggling after centuries of division when we the 5% can discuss the impact of the name in just one of those languages on us?

      You really think Apple is a success because Jobs went on an apple diet and at the time choosing the name, you really think Cope is a disaster because of the name? Can’t wait to read your take on the font and logo.

    • Bongi

      Sarah, I think you have got it all wrong. Mamphele Ramphele appeals to the masses. A political party does not need to have an english name to be acceptable. The name has a great african meaning and it makes great sense to us. instead of focussing on what “building South Africa” means to all of us, people choose to discredit the initiative. I know that Akhani will surprise a lot of people. Imagine a platform influenced by people who are not interested in self enrichment, believe in the African dream, instilling values in our society, fighting corruption, etc. Always remember, “a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

    • Andiswa

      Dr. RAMPHELE in my opinion has a great opportunity, the fact that there seems not to be much on AGANG is a strategy. She does not want to seem like she is pushing her agenda down citizens throats – we have been through there and it’s not good.
      She is too intelligent not to have something up her sleeve, she wants South Africans to own the key policy directions that AKHANI (new name) for political party which will contest in 2014. She can’t come to the masses with key policies – it’s not a one size fits all. I am really impressed about her guts to join into the political arena after she had build a strong reputation for herself. A legacy that “her sons and daughters” will be proud of. In Xhosa, we say Halala. Finally a beam of hope from an intelligent mind. Wish her the best.

    • Lesego

      Its such a pity my gran gave my daughter the name of Agang and I think its a good name and I’ve never come across anyone calling her such names like a gang, ‘n gang or anything like that. What a pity that non-Tswana people especially whites could be so self centred, really….

    • FOOX

      WATCH THIS SPACE…………….. Mantashe’s coment made me feel that he takes her seriuos, why should’t us? Count me in. I am for real values of ANC in ANG, we will find it in our new baby AgaNG. Unrest will come to an end because I saw the stability brought about by women in provinces. They are not toppled by rivals like we men do.

      Tata for now……………………

    • Buffalo Soldier

      The newly formed and soon to be launched Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) will probably garner far more votes in the next general election than Mamphele Ramphele’s new party, despite Ramphele’s marketing superiority.

      WASP have numbers that come to protest-rallies and toyi-toyi, even though they have no Facebook or Twitter accounts. The main-stream media have taken little notice of them. This is the space I will be watching with interest.