Agang (http://www.agangsa.org.za) was officially launched in February 2013 after months of speculation regarding Mamphela Ramphele’s plans to re-enter the political sphere. There was widespread speculation that she would tie up with the Democratic Alliance (DA), but after extensive negotiations Ramphele decided to forge ahead separately and launch a new political party. Given the similarity in policy focus between Agang and the DA, the existing infrastructure and resources that the DA possesses, as well as the personal relationship between Ramphele and DA leader Helen Zille, the decision was surprising.
Attending a lunch with Dr Ramphele today gave me a good opportunity to understand the rationale behind the formation of Agang, as well as some insight into their plans for the upcoming election next year. Ramphele started her comments by highlighting the failures of the ANC over the last 5 years. She pointed out that “The economy is going nowhere, education is a disgrace, healthcare is failing the people and there is no confidence in safety and security.” The last five years have indeed seen a steady deterioration in the effectiveness of government institutions, which has tested the conviction of even the most optimistic of South Africans. Ramphele castigated South Africans for allowing a monopoly in the political arena, asking “Which democracy in the world would have a ruling party confident of victory, despite its record of failure.”
Towards the end of lunch Ramphele finally addressed her decision not to join forces with the DA, which would have broadened the support for the current opposition party. It is well documented how close Ramphele was to agreeing to join the DA as party leader. The decision comes down to the fact that she believes that the DA does not understand and acknowledge the deep effect of apartheid’s legacy. While this does not prevent the DA from being effective in governing and maintaining current institutions, it makes them less effective when it comes to redressing the deep imbalances that are still prevalent within South African society. These shortcomings are reflected in the inability of the DA to attract black votes. Ramphele pointed to the alarming fact that around 60% of black voters believe that the DA will bring back apartheid if elected. Given these impediments it makes sense for Agang to maintain a separate party identity, while working in closely and in coalition with the DA where necessary.
Ramphele aims to win around 20% of the vote in next year’s elections, which is an ambitious target for party which is only 7 months old and staffed by just 30 people. Agang realises that they are a largely unknown entity amongst the majority of voters, but an upcoming branding exercise led by the team which worked for Barack Obama aims to forcefully place them into the public consciousness. While the ANC is likely to retain its majority in next year’s elections, increased competition from credible opposition parties such as Agang can only be good for the development of democracy in South Africa.