A GROUP of Eastern Cape intellectuals are among those backing the new political movement launched by educationist Dr Mamphela Ramphele yesterday.
The anti-apartheid activist, now one of the fiercest critics of the governing ANC, unveiled her new political vehicle, Agang South Africa, at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg.
Ramphele, a partner of murdered Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, said until yesterday she had never been a member of a political party nor aspired to political office.
“However, I 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,” she said. She tore into the ANC, saying the ruling party was blatantly abusing the state to benefit its loyalists and to sustain itself.
She announced that Agang South Africa, which translates as “building a new South Africa”, would contest the general elections next year.
She said she would consult with South Africans to tackle fundamental failures in governance and put South Africans first. Though thin on detail of who was backing her initiative, Ramphele said she was part of a group of five South Africans.
Daily Dispatch sources yesterday named former University of South Africa vice-chancellor Professor Barney Pityana, his brother and businessman Dr Sipho Pityana and gender activist Nomboniso Gasa among those supporting Ramphele.
Political analysts Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of former president Thabo Mbeki, and Prince Mashele were also mentioned but both have denied any involvement.
Gasa chaired the launch session and her participation fuelled speculation that Ramphele had used the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) as a launchpad.
Both Ramphele and Gasa are founding members of Casac, which is chaired by Sipho Pityana.
“Barney Pityana knew about this long before the story broke in the media. I know he told people about this early this year,” said one source.
“However, he differed with Ramphele, who just wanted a social movement. He felt she should contest power. I know for a fact that they consulted him. He might be advising her but he is definitely involved. He felt a civil society movement is just noise making.
“She did not want to contest power but clearly she has been convinced by Barney.”
Barney Pityana, who has known Ramphele since their university days, told the Dispatch that he backed the political formation only “as a matter of principle” and was not involved in its formation.
“I trust Mamphela’s instincts and I am convinced that in the environment we are in, there’s a good reason for someone like her to provide an alternative political voice.
“It’s very important and very welcome. She’s got a good track record, commitment to the people and enormous experience,” he said .
Gasa said Casac was behind Agang SA, which it saw as a champion of democracy. “We welcome the opportunity to open up space for dialogue about the future of South Africa. Any political formation in defence of the Constitution and democracy is the right step,” said Gasa .
Moeletsi Mbeki said the initiative was entirely Ramphele’s and he was not personally involved.
“There’s a huge amount of space for people with new political ideas to solve the problems of the majority . Forty percent of our people are unemployed and there’s no bigger proof of failure by a government. If there is 8% unemployment in America, they replace the president as having failed,” he said .
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said although Ramphele’s pedigree could not be easily dismissed, it was not clear how much political infrastructure she had to back the initiative. “Interestingly, she speaks to the rural base, especially in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, from a position of opposing traditional leaders. She might be at loggerheads with traditional leaders for championing women’s issues. She’ll have to contend with the ANC, which positions itself as being everything to everybody .” — A dditional reporting by Sapa and Hlengiwe Nhlabathi