William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Public interest in Ramphele’s movement stems from despair

Dr Mamphela Ramphele this week launched Agang, not quite the long-awaited political party that has been the focus of so much speculation, but rather a “consultative platform” that is yet to morph into one.

The assessment of political commentators so far has been mostly delivered with barely stifled derision. There’s widespread agreement that Agang – South Sotho for ‘’build the nation’’– is a silly name, that Ramphele dressed funnily, that she has ugly curls, and that she is a naive egotist who wouldn’t know how to consult if her life depended on it.

Given the absence of policy detail, except that she wants to rekindle the dream of a vibrant democracy in South Africa, there admittedly wasn’t much to dissect. Indeed, much of her launch speech was ‘’vision stuff’’, easy to be cynical about.

And there are convincing arguments as to why Ramphele hasn’t a hope in hell. A regional base is important in politics; she doesn’t have one. She needs an established political infrastructure to deliver votes in just 18 months’ time; she doesn’t have it.

Further, Ramphele needs a clear constituency, in SA historically defined by race, language and ethnicity, which almost instinctively will vote for her. She doesn’t have one. The poor black vote belongs to the African National Congress; the middle-class minorities’ vote belongs to the Democratic Alliance.

In Business Day, Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, dismissed public excitement over Ramphele’s plans as ‘’based on wishful thinking more than sound analysis’’. On Politicsweb the London Sunday Times’ RW Johnson wrote off Ramphele as just a floundering beneficiary of affirmative action, her achievements ‘’negative or nugatory’’, and assessed Helen Zille’s attempts to draw Ramphele into the DA as ‘’quixotic, even suicidal’’.

The underlying assumption of Ramphele’s critics is that her ability to draw considerable voting support in the 2014 election, without cannibalising the existing opposition, is the only worthwhile measure of success. They are wrong.

In the 1970s the DA’s predecessor, the Progressive Party, acted as midwife to a similar ‘’consultative platform’’, an organisation called Verligte Aksie. The idea was to create outside the confining moulds that defined white politics, a space where enlightened (verligte) Afrikaners could be weaned from the National Party without having to leap directly into bed with English-language capital.

While Verligte Aksie didn’t manage to break the ethnicity mould, it did put cracks in it. By the late 1980s these had widened into fissures, with Afrikaners trekking into Africa to negotiate with the banned ANC.

There are many now disillusioned black ANC voters who, like those verligte Afrikaners, cannot bear the thought of embracing the white establishment, in the form of the DA. Agang could be a critical staging post on their journey towards an opposition entity that from the very outset transcends race.

Nor are the political contours facing Ramphele as bleak as they are painted. As Post columnist Kanthan Pillay points out, Gauteng is a potential power base ripe for Ramphele’s plucking. It’s the wealthiest, most urbanised, most educated province ‘’and the most pissed off at [ANC] inefficiencies’’, he writes.

But possibly Ramphele greatest possible contribution, not to be underestimated, is to revive hope. The highlight of the State of Nation debate was not the president’s dreary itemised wish list, nor the predictable point-scoring rebuttal of the leader of the opposition. It was the clearly heartfelt words of Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The old stalwart spoke eloquently, and with unusual brevity, of his ‘’utter distress’’ at the loss of hope that sustained the liberation struggle. ‘’Even in the darkest nights, we retained hope … and that hope kept our cause alive. Without hope, the future can no longer be imagined or pursued. For the first time in my life, I worry that our nation’s future is darkening as, inch by inch, we drift further away from hope.’’

The interest in Ramphele’s initiative is not political naiveté or wishful thinking. It’s about hope at a moment when SA is awash with despair.

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    • Joe Soap

      I think Ramphele’s idea of launching a ‘consultative platform’ that is yet to morph into into a political party is brilliant.

      A concept way ahead of its time, though it should not be in this cyber-age…. he, he a bit like Anonymous. I love them.

      Yet I have my doubts that we in South Africa are ready for such open minded innovative thinking when it comes to politics. Many of us are still part of the toyi-toyi and follow the liberation-struggle brand generation, even though it is letting the country down very badly.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Wishful Thinking has been going on in SA for a long time – which is also why both the ID and Cope were one election flash in the pans – people tried them, but they could not come up to the plate in the long haul.

      My bijggest objection to Dr Rampele still is that she follows the Pan Arab Africanist Myth of Thabo Mbeki, Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe – of an open borders, no countries, Africa – an African equivilant of White America, dreamed up in detribalised Black America in the first place.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Mind you I also don’t consider Dr Ramphele an intellectual either, not from her writings, and believe Johnston when he says she messed up in every job she was a token Black Woman AA/BEE deployed cadre to. Made her rich though didn’t it? Which, after all, was the whole point!

    • Jon Story

      Elsewhere I read that she has become colourblind, instead of black consciousness she ratrher thinks of “South African consciousness”.
      That seems, in layman’s terms, more a question of whistful thinking.
      Colour is ingrained in the SA psyche and it is unthinkable that in any decision, in particular the decision which party to vote for this would not be a factor. Or even the main factor.
      Colour is inerasible, one cannot escape from it, you are born with it and you die with it.
      And before we claim this as a peculiar SA problem, it is not. Worldwide colour features, it is the nature of the thing.
      So whether we like it not or even despair because of it, what eventually becomes of Agang is for the future.
      Desperate people clutch at straws but it takes only one straw to break the camels back.
      So they say.

    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      A breath of fresh air, William.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Colour has never been engrained in the SA psyche prior to the return of the ANC from exile with their American Advisors.

      The fights were about ideologies (like Communism versus Democracy) or Culture (Chiefs/Sangomas versus elected representatives) or Tribal Clashes (Xhosa versus Zulu; Afrikaner versus Brit)

    • Charlotte

      Wonderful words, William! With the added bonus of giving us significant political background, a legitimate appraisal and remarkable insight, you have said what many of us would like to be able to say – if we had the words …

      The stronger ANC opposition is voiced, whether independently or by eventual coalition, the more powerful it becomes in standing up (if not together, then in unison) against the ruinous behemoth of the ‘ANC.Inc’ (Arrogance, Nepotism, Corruption & Incompetence)

      As you say, for many black voters, highly disillusioned with the ANC who may still be reluctant to join the DA, Ramphela offers a way forward; and also out of the mire for many voters who abstained from voting at all.
      If opposition parties, from all sides, continue to ‘wean dismayed, disappointed voters away from the ANC, put cracks into it and widen the fissures’, the more positive and hopeful we can be of a concerted fight against the country s present disastrous downward spiral towards ‘Zuma-Babwe’.
      Repeating your last line: “It’s about hope at a moment when South Africa is awash with despair.”

    • http://marvcbarr.blogspot.com/ Marvin Caldwell-Barr

      Mamphela Ramphele’s official entry into South Africa’s political arena is, in my view, long overdue but welcome nonetheless. Better late than never. However, I do think she blundered badly in spurning the DA’s overtures to come aboard and take advantage of the benefits of the party’s established infrastructure and support base.

      Helen Zille, reportedly, even offered Ramphele the party leadership.

      So it’s going to be interesting to see how she fares going forward. It won’t be plain sailing, that’s for sure. Critics have already begun to analyse her bona fides in search of negatives. One, RW Johnson, writes that a “cursory glance at her career suggests that her political initiative is an accident waiting to happen.”

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The ANC Scapegaoated the Whites as “The Common Enemy” like the Nazis did the Jews

      In order to UNITE the Tribes and STOP Tribalism. It is an Old Old Political Trick – “The Common Enemy” to promote Imperialiasm and unify divided groups used by:

      The Papacy against the Muslims in the Crusades, The Arabs in Jihad today, the Communists against “the landlords”, the Chinese against the Tibetan monks etc etc etc

      Which is where the Black/White Racism comes from

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Sorry about the mis-spellings, typos and freudian slips!

      Neither my keyboard nor brain seem to want to obey instructions – but both are getting old and cranky!

    • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      While we do aspire to be a vibrant multiparty democracy, its the the domination of that white tribal self-proclaimed “opposition” party that prevents us from making process. That is the real despair that grips our democracy, the lack of a legitimate opposition.

      Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang, is the lesser evil by far since unlike the DA ( http://southafricana.blogspot.com/2010/12/myth-of-da-liberalism.html) she will not represents only the interests of the beneficiaries of apartheid.

      btw. Claiming that there is “widespread agreement” that a Sotho name is “silly” or her tradition dress “funny” or referring to her “ugly curls” is insensitive and mean-spirited but not surprising considering your consistent demeaning of powerful black leaders.

    • Joe Soap

      I was very happy to hear Dr Ramphele talk of a ‘South African Consciousness’ as opposed to ‘Black Consciousness’.

      South African Consciousness should celebrate our rich racial and cultural diversity of which I experience on the city streets and in rural areas of this country everyday.

      Laughing happy Rainbow Nation South Africans always willing to smile and crack a joke despite some huge hardships and challenges.

    • george orwell

      Is ‘Agang’ an astro-turf organisation, as opposed to grassroots politics?

      Is ‘Agang’ a gang of well-shod diaspora South Africans with friendly links to powerful US foundations, eager to exploit Ramphele for her credentials?

      Curious that Ramphele is both a former trustee of the US Rockefeller Foundation and now delivering statements from the Ford Foundation offices.

      American NGOs tend to de-fang the true left, by pumping establishment dollar$ into controlling the opposition in tweedledee-tweedledum politics.

      Ramphele goes to the US to ‘chat’ to South Africans in the diaspora and comes back with the “AGang” Idea.

      The SA disapora exists, in the main, of rich, white types that couldn’t really bear the thought of a black-ruled SA and fled to elite enclaves with their offshore accounts….

      Beware the faux foundations – feel-good Trojan Horses to usher in America’s air-conditioned versions of reality.

      “Empire’s Double-Edged Sword: Global Military NGOs”:


    • Robert Hebbert

      I am a somewhat superannuated white male who wishes to make a contributiion to this country. It cannot be done with the DA and it cannot be done with the ANC. The DA is too much much tainted by the old politiek and the ANC lacks the intelligent constituency and internal persons with whom rational people can deal on a realsitic basis. Their continued subscription to discredited ideologies and their beholdenness to a constituency that has been primed to demand immediate gratification and illicit patronage at the expense of development and advancement prevents them from acting in the interests of all in the longer term. I want to deal with people, who will tell it like it is and will accept the realities of today and the requirements for the future without the shibboleths of apartheid, colonialism, imperialsim and the like. If the Agang platform allows me access to such people I will be there.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The “Common Enemy” is also always the Sub-Human “Outsider”

      There are many “Outsider” books – Colin Wilson, Camus, Kafka (spelling?).

      Also the books of the psychiatrist Erich Fromm, who analysed the causes of Nazi atrocities. But, once again, the most up to date writings on “the Outsider” are by the psychiatrist Dr Scott M Peck in his books “The Road Less Travelled” and “Further Along The Road Less Travelled”

      His analysis boils down to that Humans CAN’T be made to kill other humans unless “The Enemy” is dehumanised to a Sub Human Outsider – and that ALL armies have to do that as part of training their soldiers.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Dr Peck did his analysis for the USA Army after the Vietnamese War

      The USA Army did not like the analysis, which was that the Americans at Mai Lai were exactly the same as the Nazis, so they buried the report.

      Which resulted in them making EXACTLY THE SAME MISTAKES AGAIN – Iraq, Pakistan and Bin Ladin, Afghanistan.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      America must stop re-writing History in Hollywood’s Tinseltown

      Like the present Oscar Nominees:

      Lincoln did NOT free the slaves – he used them as a propaganda tool and dumped them when their usefulness was over.

      Shia Iran was never the enemy of anyone except Fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, whose side the USA has taken since Yalta for cheap oil.

      Bin Ladin was not found by torture, but by detective work and tip offs from informers.

    • george orwell

      A Robert Hebbert: “I want to deal with people, who will tell it like it is and will accept the realities of today and the requirements for the future without the shibboleths of apartheid, colonialism, imperialsim and the like.”

      And you think Ramphele, who moves in elite circles in Washington, London and Cape Town, served on the board of the Rockerfeller Foundation and talks from the Ford Foundation offices, is the one who acdcepts the realities of the day?

      It appears Ramphele moves within the 1%, rather than arises out of the 99%.

      What are ‘the requirements for the future’? A South Africa even more open to casino capitalism, American style, than before? You reckon ‘trickle-down’ worked?

    • http://www.yahoo.com On the Fence

      William your approach is rather realistic and pragmatic. Thank you
      However we must consider an individual who is willing to sacrifice so much of her own personal equity and influence within the ruling party. To try and make a difference is in my oppinion “note worthy”. Unlike the critics like myself pointing out and sitting on the fence. G-D Bless South Africa in the next generation where all the war mongers, and freedom fighters will no longer be the flavor of the day.
      And colour blind individuals will be the order of the day….

    • Enough Said

      Has anyone read the new book by Hlumelo Biko, son of Steve Biko and Mamphele Ramphele – “A Great African Society”?

      I am about to purchase a copy.

    • Carl Chessman

      To what ‘vibrant democracy’ is Dave Harris referring? The one that he supports? The one that hates all whites, irrespective of what they do or who they are? … The ‘reverse-apartheid’ of the ANC with its ‘get-rich-quick’ “powerful leaders”?
      ….like Julius Malema who shamelessly preyed on the poor purely for his own personal gain? or Jacob Zuma,who shys away from answering questions about Nkandla (even more to be spent on it now, while he waits for the Protection of Information Bill to pretect him from ever being accountable) ; who basks in the ostentation of this monument to ‘ANC leadership’s’ greed and corruption?

      Democracy – a non-racist, equal opportunity society – is what is offered by many opposition parties who are lead with integrity, honesty and hard work.
      Characterised by their leaders, the DA and Agang, provide a vision of a better future for this country…. where a government works for the betterment of the people – not uses the people to work for the betterment of the government
      … where people are not used as voting fodder to enable a corrupt government to continue with its ongoing incompetence, self-interest and self-enrichment.

    • ConCision

      Hope from Despair
      A Nation’s Salvation
      – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      The more voters veto corruption
      The more vital the opposition
      The more varied its composition
      The more viable a coalition

      The more valuable the recognition
      The more valid the proposition
      The more victorious the transition
      That will vest to fruition

    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      Anyone following what Dr Ramphele is up to might find this of interest: http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com/2013/02/has-mamphela-ramphele-really-got-it-all.html