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Ramphele: A happy South Africa from the ground up

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mam­phela Ramphele's new political party is expected to be launched by June. She spoke to Mmanaledi Mataboge about Agang SA.

'Agang means build and it reflects the sense we have that our country needs to be built anew.' (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

What does Agang stand for?
Agang means build and it reflects the sense we have that our country needs to be built anew. The work that we set out to do when we attained our freedom in 1994 is incomplete. We've got a great macroeconomic policy framework, great financial services and we inherited some of the good infrastructure, but where it matters for poor people we have not done a good job; in fact, we have failed dismally. The electoral system we have right now does not provide for people from my village to say who among us here can represent us in Parliament, so that, when things go wrong, we can have somebody who can take our issues forward.

You believe hope has turned into despair and this can be reversed only if we start behaving as citizens, rather than subjects of those in political power?
The freedom we're enjoying was not given to us. Ordinary South Africans in the streets, on the factory floors, in religious assemblies, in schools, in universities fought for this freedom. To hand over that agency to one political party because it was associated with our iconic leader Mr [Nelson] Mandela is not right. He was the first one to say no one should ever claim authorship of this freedom.

Does your criticism of the ANC mean you're forming a party on anti-ANC sentiments and hope to attract disgruntled ANC voters?
There's no way you can talk about corruption without talking about the ANC because they're the party in government. We have to call a spade a spade. This is not about an anti-ANC platform; this is a platform to build a new South Africa we can all be proud of.

Are you dumping black consciousness in favour of a South African consciousness?
What we need now in this post-1994 period is a South African consciousness, built on the experiences of black consciousness, which was about fighting an inferiority complex among black people and a superiority complex among white people. We still need that work done, not under the banner of black consciousness, but under the banner of a South African consciousness.

What are you doing differently from other opposition parties?
There's no party that's making citizenship a major issue. Very few have talked about a governance issue from an electoral system point of view, there is no party that has talked about the restructuring of the economy the way we are planning to do. There's no party I've heard of that has put forward a radical programme of building an education for the 21st century. There's no party that's talking about dealing with South Africa's standing in the world, both in terms of foreign policy and migration policy. We were very highly revered as people who were able to transcend the adversities of the past and emerge with a constitutional democracy in 1994. We continued to be revered when Mr Mandela was our president. At the beginning of Mr [Thabo] Mbeki's presidency there was still very high respect for South Africa. Today even on the African continent people are saying "you guys are destroying your country". Our education system is worse than the education system of Malawi. It cannot compete with Botswana, it cannot compete even with Zimbabwe, notwithstanding the fact that Zimbabwe has had all this meltdown from a governance point of view.

Some predict that Agang will only succeed in splitting the opposition and won't threaten the ANC's support?
I hope South Africans can overcome our fear of the unknown. Why don't they [critics] just wait and see how we are going to pull this together? That's the reason we're calling it a platform. We're going to take our time looking at what is the best possible way of mobilising all those South Africans who are currently not voting, who have stopped voting or who are new to the electoral process because they've just turned 18.

What would you do differently with BEE?
We are proposing the restructuring of the economy because BEE unfortunately takes us back to having to classify people in order for them to qualify to be BEE partners.

South Africa has to start talking to the needs of all South Africans whether they're white, whether they're in urban areas or rural areas. We've got a huge services sector where we don't need to be sitting and counting beans of how many black people we have. If we train everybody properly, if we educate everybody properly, we will not need to count beans … Black people are as capable as everybody else.

Will you have a problem if you're not the leader of this new party?
Absolutely not. I didn't start this in order to be the leader. If I'm asked to lead, I will lead, but if someone else who's better comes forward and they say, well, this person is the one who should be there, I'll be very happy, because it would mean the base of support is broadening, the depth of leadership is there. I'm 65, I have absolutely no aspiration to be anything other than a very happy South African.


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