TOUGH TASK AHEAD: Dr Mamphela Ramphele addresses the media at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Monday. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
TOUGH TASK AHEAD: Dr Mamphela Ramphele addresses the media at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Monday. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

DR MAMPHELA Ramphele on Monday announced the formation of a “party political platform” whose first order of business would be to call for reform of South Africa’s electoral system and with the aim of contesting the 2014 national elections.

Speculation had been rife for weeks that the activist and doctor — a former MD of the World Bank — would enter the country’s political space through forming her own political party.

She will challenge the 2014 election, although she admits to having a staff of just five people, and expects funding, always an elephant in the room for political parties, to come largely from “supportive” South Africans.

On Monday, she delivered a hard-hitting speech on how the dream of a democratic South Africa had been derailed by poor governance, corruption, nepotism, poverty and powerlessness.

“Our country is at risk because self-interest has become the driver of many of those in positions of authority who should be focused on serving the public,” she said.

The platform — to be called “Agang” in Sesotho, meaning “Build SA” — will embark on a 1-million-signature campaign to ensure that electoral reform is the “first order of business” for Parliament after the 2014 election.

“I am here today to invite you, young and old, to reimagine the country of our dreams and to commit to building it into a reality in the lives of every South African,” Dr Ramphele said at the historic Women’s Gaol at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg.

“I have said that I am no messiah. No single individual acting on their own can build our nation into the country of our dreams. But I am willing to be a bridge between my generation — those of us who fought for freedom who remember not only with their minds but also with their hearts — and that of my children. For us the dream remains alive as a link between those who sacrificed their lives for freedom to be born and those who live in the hope of seeing the reality of the dream come alive in their own lifetime.”

She said South Africans were being denied the right to govern by the current electoral system, and bemoaned the deployment of people to government by parties and the impact of being beholden to party leaders on their performance.

“We should be able to vote for the person in our own area we want to represent us in Parliament, so we can hold them accountable for the electoral promises they make,” she said. “We want an MP for Marikana, an MP for De Doorns and an MP for Sasolburg, so if the people are unhappy and the MP is not responsive enough, they will be voted out at the next election.”

The new party political platform would give citizens who stood on the sidelines an opportunity to become actively involved in building a South Africa to be proud of, Ms Ramphele said.

She blamed a passive citizenry for the direction South Africa had taken, saying she wanted to ignite South Africans to help pull the country back on track. This would be accomplished through “consultation” with those in villages, townships and suburbs, which would feed into her party’s policies.

An active citizenry would also aid in the party’s “war” against corruption. “If we operate as vigilant, active citizens, we can tackle corruption. We too are part of the problem,” Dr Ramphele said.

She added that the decision to enter party politics had not come easily. “I have never been a member of a political party nor aspired to political office. I however feel called to lead the efforts of many South Africans who increasingly fear that we are missing too many opportunities to become that which we have the potential to become — a great society.

“I have no illusions about the difficult road ahead. Bridges get trampled on. But I trust my fellow South Africans’ capacity to come together at critical times to do what others believe is impossible. I believe in our potential for greatness. I believe that greatness is within our grasp if only we can reach out across divisions and self-interests and put the country first.”

Dr Ramphele also said Marikana and De Doorns underscored the urgent need for South Africa to restructure its economic system — but such a restructuring should also focus on job satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment for workers.

Since last year, South Africa has seen a surge in violent and sometimes deadly industrial protests, often with demands for higher wages.

“What we want is an economy that works for all South Africans,” Dr Ramphele said.

She said Agang did not have a preferred economic policy at this stage as it was a work in progress and would be developed as consultation continued. She added, however, that the current economic structure undermined the country’s growth prospects.

News of Dr Ramphele’s political plans have created a buzz in opposition circles, though she made it clear on Monday that she was not joining any other political party, but consulting them widely with. “I am not a joiner,” she said. 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Monday that it took note of Dr Ramphele’s intention “to engage South Africans about the formation of a new political party”.

“Dr Ramphele shares the DA’s core values of nonracialism and constitutionalism, and her move is another step in the long process of realigning South African politics around these values,” said DA spokesman Mmusi Maimane, adding: “We will continue to engage Dr Ramphele in the coming months.”

Smaller parties such as the Congress of the People (COPE) can be expected to seize the opportunity of jumping on the bandwagon.

COPE leaders have said they are mulling ways to work with Dr Ramphele. While this could give her initiative a boost, it could also raise credibility questions, as COPE has battled with internal squabbles that have all but eroded its credibility.

Political analyst Susan Booysens said Ms Ramphele’s announcement on Monday was “odd and bizarre”.

Ms Booysens said she did not see Agang taking off as an imagination-grabbing political party. “I cannot even say refreshing because I cannot see how it fits into party politics,” said Ms Booysens.

Aubrey Matshiqi, political analyst and research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation, said Ms Ramphele’s first handicap was that she started with a party political platform. However, Mr Matshiqi said he was not surprised with the move as it appeared that Ms Ramphele and her team were “not able to settle for a very clear way of defining themselves”.

“But when you are consulting a broad range of people, defining yourself can be a problem,” Mr Matshiqi said.

With Sam Mkokeli and Setumo Stone