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Ramphele and Agang SA: I don't believe this is about friendships

Mmanaledi Mataboge

In the first in a series of profiles, Mamphela Ramphele explains Agang SA is ready for the upcoming elections - despite the problems it faces.

Mamphela Ramphele is determined to change South Africa's political culture and empower the country's citizens. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Do you still consider yourself a leader of a party worth voting for?
Agang is a fresh start. It is hardly a year old, it is a growing party, it is a party for all South Africans. Everywhere I go people are excited about the idea of building a winning South Africa together. We are calling on South Africans to rediscover their greatness and not be satisfied with being second best.

Is Agang bankrupt because you failed to get the required financial donations as faith in your leadership diminished?
Every start-up has cash-flow problems. Every party has moments when cash flow is a problem. Even big parties like the ANC have cash-flow issues. It's not surprising that Agang will end up with cash-flow problems.

There's a big difference between being bankrupt and not having a cash flow. The issue of money is always a big problem and this is one of the issues this country has to resolve. You cannot have multiparty democracy where you don't, in a transparent way, fund parties so that people have a choice to vote for parties not because they have money but because they have ideas that resonate with people.

We have people who have donated to us over the months and they continue to donate to us.

The issue is you don't work for a political party, you give yourself to the political party. I'm not paid. You volunteer because this is your future you're building.

There are some junior staff who get paid, but senior staff need to be in this because they believe it's their future.

Have you used your own money to help Agang?
I have donated money in kind. I'm not paid. I used to earn a ­living. I now depend on my son looking after his mother and that's a big sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice for my grandchildren.

If I was a multimillionaire I would definitely use my money for supporting the cause that I believe in ... I have also given cash to Agang and that is just proper.

How much money have you donated to Agang?
I don't think that is a fair question.

Are you a dictator?
I'm not going to answer questions like how many times do you beat your wife. I have been an activist for the past 45 years. I have built projects with communities in the Eastern Cape. Rural people are still my friends and they are still ­hankering for my return. If I was a dictator would they be wanting me back? People in Lenyenye [in Limpopo], when I get there, I get a heroine's welcome because I am an enabler. I have very high standards. If you work with me you have to give the best of yourself in the area you are good at. If that's being a dictator, well, [I'm] guilty as charged.

Did you use your friendship with Helen Zille to bulldoze Agang members into an unblessed political marriage?
I don't believe that this is about friendships. When Agang was launched we publicly announced that we will champion collaborative politics and seek to speak to all the parties that have similar values to us.

Our talks with the DA [Democratic Alliance] have been public knowledge. It's not like I woke up one day and said where is my friend? The partnership couldn't work out because there were issues that couldn't be resolved and it was a matter of interpretation.

There's a difference between partnership and getting swallowed. Getting swallowed was not on the cards. What we wanted was a genuine partnership where Agang would bring strengths to the partnership. 

Any chance of surprising us and hooking up with the DA again?
We are focused on the election right now and that's the job ahead of us. Post-elections, we believe the future of this country depends on collaborative politics. We cannot have a few or many little parties. But that has to be built on the basis of agreement on the nature of the partnership or coalition that we form and the policies that will drive those partnerships. We go to Parliament open to working with others.

Your record in the private sector is not particularly rosy, with a questionable BEE transaction you left at Gold Fields, an investigation into the Technology Innovation Agency and its cattle-breeding project that's hosted on the farm belonging to your family while you chaired the board.
I disagree with ... not being a successful person in the private sector. The Gold Fields transaction I inherited, I didn't start it. And when I found out that there were some questions I'm the one who instituted that investigation.

The Technology Innovation Agency … I founded that from nothing. I brought together the board to bring together disparate little entities that had been mired in poor governance under the leadership of the department of science and technology. We cleaned it up, [and] got clean audits for two years running.

There is absolutely no impropriety with the cattle project. If anything, my family donated the land to the community. The investigations that are being done are self-serving by a board that has absolutely nothing to show for what it has done for the whole year. What they have done is to destroy the agency that was working and they've mired it in investigations that are now running into a year. It's a scandal. It is the worst possible governance that we are witnessing and it's a tragedy.

Do you have a regional base in your home province of Limpopo?
Absolutely. People love the idea of a village woman who has lifted herself up by her boot straps, who is where she is not because she got this or that patronage but because she used the talent that God gave her to become the person she is today. People are very proud of their daughter standing for public office. I believe we are going to surprise a lot of people in Limpopo.

Will you remain in politics if you don't do well in this election?
I'm not in this business to be successful in this coming election. I'm in this business to build a winning South Africa together with other South Africans. That building process is a long-term project. Even if we win this election it'll just be the beginning of the work that needs to be done. We're changing the political culture of this country. We are raising the consciousness of citizens to again rediscover that the power is within [them] and not with some public official.


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