Suntosh Pillay
Suntosh Pillay

An interview with Agang’s chief operating officer

Andrew Gasnolar, a youthful 28-year-old from Gardens in Cape Town, is the new chief operations officer for Agang SA. A lawyer, Mandela-Rhodes Scholar and World Economic Forum Global Shaper, I chatted to him about his new job, politics, and whether I should vote for Agang SA.

What made you take up this post?

I have great respect and admiration for Mamphela Ramphele and the idea of Agang SA (let’s build South Africa) resonates with me — the message of co-creation, of active citizenry, of accountability, of transparency. The opportunity to work with citizens who share a vision of a better South Africa was sufficient motivation for me to get involved as a volunteer. The opportunity to work with someone like Ramphele was even more enticing and I felt that I had no choice but to take up the position of chief operating officer.

How has your personal and professional background equipped you for this post?

I come from somewhat humble beginnings, raised by a maternal family and a single mother, who was able to provide me with the opportunities in which to develop. Studying a law degree and having worked in law firms has provided me with the ability to manage various projects and also to sift through shifting demands. But the role of a chief operating officer (head of the management team, among other things) in a start-up political party is a very different thing given that the tasks are demanding and the workflow is disproportionate. My commitment and belief that South Africa can in fact be a great African society provides me with the necessary energy and passion to make this work.

What is Agang SA offering that other political parties are not?

Agang SA, when it launched, promised to be a catalyst for political change in this country — by changing our language and also the landscape. It promised to be a bridge between the generation of freedom of fighters and the generation of today.

The fact that I, at a relatively young age, have been able to rise from a volunteer to the chief operating officer and also being elected to the national executive (and on the top 10 lists for Parliament) is a testimony that this promise is not an empty promise but in fact a commitment. Citizens of this country require something different and Agang provides a platform in which active citizens can not only shape Agang but guide it. This is a moment to seize.

What percentage of the vote is Agang SA expecting?

In the last national election, some 41% of the electorate (13 million citizens) chose not to vote. This year, 20 years into our democracy, we have an opportunity to vote for that change. Regardless of the results from May 7, we believe that Agang can be a catalyst for change by calling all South Africans to participate actively in their democracy.

Citizens, like myself, who were keen on voting for Agang SA, are now thinking twice after Ramphele’s failed merger with the DA. I felt duped and lost confidence in her. How will Agang SA really restore the promise of our initial freedoms, and not disappear into oblivion like Cope?

I think it is short-sighted to use words like “duped”. Agang SA faced uphill challenges, being a start-up with limited resources, reluctance by many South Africans to voice their support (openly), the conservative approach to the status quo. Despite those challenges, Agang has been able to mobilise 100 000 members and volunteers across the country in the idea that if we work together we can build a winning South Africa.

Agang promised publically to champion the realignment of South African politics in particular the opposition benches. Agang was open about being in talks with the DA for many months before its launch and confirmed that it remained in talks with the DA, Cope and UDM and other organisations.

The partnership between Agang and the DA provided South Africa with an opportunity to work together — a sea of green and blue working together to restore the promise of freedom. Agang viewed this partnership as just that, it did not view it as the DA chopping off its head (taking its leader as a trophy). That was obviously not possible and Agang was brave and able to listen early to its membership and do the difficult thing by walking away from a partnership that would have seen Agang swallowed. Despite that failed execution of the partnership, Agang remains committed to putting the country first and working with others who share our values.

What role in Agang SA do you foresee for yourself after the May 7 elections?

I have been elected as the party’s deputy spokesperson and policy convenor and I see the building work continuing. I also feature on our top 10 candidates lists and look forward to working even harder with like-minded, young and old citizens with the idea that we can change the state of our country. We can reimagine a South Africa in which all citizens are able to reach their highest dreams.

Any advice for undecided voters?

We all have a role to play in our democracy and I call on you, regardless of where you find yourself, to put the country first. Demand more from your political leaders and know that a multiparty democracy is what this country needs — we need compromise and realignment towards the values and principles of our early democracy.

Twitter: @suntoshpillay

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