PROMINENT activist Mamphela Ramphele’s launch of Agang, a political platform that will contest next year’s elections, has been missing the active support of civic society bodies.
Their support would have helped her, as she now appears isolated in her initiative, with no established bodies or big-name politicians around her. Instead, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have been quick to be seen to be distancing themselves from her. It is not difficult to see why.
Such bodies depend on donor funding for their operations, and any poorly calculated political association could see funders pulling the plug. Also, the dependence on the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) patronage system means many would not want to be associated with Dr Ramphele as she enters opposition politics.
Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa national convener Hlengiwe Mkhize questions Dr Ramphele’s "flawed" assessment of South Africa’s political situation.
Ms Mkhize is also deputy economic development minister and treasurer of the ANC Women’s League. She says Dr Ramphele, in her launch speech last week, omitted the good work done to liberate South Africans.
"She (Dr Ramphele) says the country of our dreams has unfortunately faded, under a threat of being made subjects, as though there are policies that deliberately and consciously take people back to the dehumanisation of the apartheid era. I find that inaccurate and it is problematic if you see yourself as a bridge," Ms Mkhize says.
Dr Ramphele says her initiative will serve as a bridge to bring new generations into the centre of politics, while "the golden oldies must go into the sunset".
Ms Mkhize also says: "A bridge should not make people start afresh. This is a long journey of transforming society, of dismantling apartheid legacy. You have to tell the truth."
She says Dr Ramphele was exaggerating in her criticism of South Africa — especially in her assertion that citizens had become servants.
"Each and every South African, through the constitution, has a claim, has a say, a voice. That’s why if you listen to radio shows, they are the most vibrant I have ever heard in any part of the world, on any topic, be it about a politician or the president of the country, people go for whoever," she said.
Equal Education (EE), an NGO that gained prominence when it took on the government for the failure to deliver textbooks in Limpopo, last week distanced itself from Agang and Dr Ramphele.
The NGO said in a statement: "EE states categorically it has had no involvement whatsoever in the conception or launch of Dr Ramphele’s new party political platform Agang SA. EE has never met or corresponded with Ramphele to discuss her plans to enter formal politics, and only learnt of the existence of Agang SA (last week),"
It went further: "EE engages constructively and regularly with political parties and their representatives. We look forward to doing so with Dr Ramphele and Agang SA. EE and all civil society organisations should be open to members of all political parties. However, civil society should always remain independent, and belong to citizens, not to political parties."
Section27 director Mark Heywood says Dr Ramphele deserves more support from civic society for her "courageous step, which represents the maturing and potentially the deepening of our democracy".
Section27 does not support any political party. However, it recognises that many of the issues Dr Ramphele raised resonate with much of the criticism made by civic bodies.
"In many respects, there’s been a strange and hard-to-explain silence from social movements, which is linked to the insidious fear of the ANC," Mr Heywood says.
Since NGOs have in the past been accused of working against the ANC, they could now fear that lending support to Dr Ramphele could confirm the existence of a "hidden agenda", as the ANC has often accused them of such.
As for Section27 actively supporting Dr Ramphele, he says "it will take some time still to convince us that any political party is the way forward".