A new era in South African politics began this week with the birth of Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang – a political platform billed to steer the country on a path towards an empowered citizenry, accountable public service, revitalised economy and enhanced global standing.
Delivering her rousing launch speech at the Women’s Gaol on Constitution Hill yesterday, community activist, medical doctor, academic and former World Bank managing director, Ramphele invited South Africans to join her on a journey “to build the country of our dreams”.
The metaphor of a bridge was used to explain Ramphele’s role in the transition – she would help join her generation – members of which “fought for freedom who remember not only with their minds but also with their hearts” – and the children of today.
Mindful of her limitations, Ramphele said she was no messiah and that her decision to enter party politics was not an easy one to make.
“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.”
What Agang sets out to achieve
Agang, seSotho for “Build South Africa” is not being introduced as a political party, but rather as an initiative that will take into consideration the diverse needs and expectations of all citizens through a thorough consultative process. But what Ramphele is clear on, is that this initiative will lead to party that will contest the 2014 elections.
“I want us to re-imagine how we can work together as South Africans, to break the mould and reinvent our politics and our policies so that we can escape the destructive patterns of division and alienation in which they are trapped as a result of the oppression of the past. This is an opportunity for citizens to take ownership of their own country’s destiny and shape it,” Ramphele declares on the Agang South Africa website.
“Over the coming months we will work together to build this party, its policies and its leadership. We will be talking to, engaging with and empowering active citizens to help us create that new foundation together,” she adds.
Setting out the fundamentals of her long-term vision for the country, Ramphele outlines five key focus areas:
• Empower the people to govern – Choosing members of parliament from lists drawn up by political parties gives disproportionate power to party bosses at the expense of ordinary citizens, Ramphele says. People should be able to vote for the person in their own area who they want to be their representative parliament. This will mean individuals are accountable for the electoral promises they make.
“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. South Africa’s people are effectively being prevented from governing by the country’s electoral system. We will be working with fellow citizens to launch a million signature campaign for electoral reform. Electoral reform must be the first order of business of the post-2014 election parliament,” Ramphele says.
Turning to matters of self-enrichment and corruption, Ramphele gives the ANC’s Chancellor House investment arm as the most blatant example of “how the governing party has abused the state to benefit its loyalists and to sustain itself in power.”
She adds that powerful vested interests have undermined proper management of state assets, “reflected by the seamless manner in which the party, the government, the president and the state have merged into a monolith of impunity”.
• Build an effective public service – Lack of competence in South Africa’s public service perpetuates poor living conditions, unemployment and economic stagnation, Ramphele says, adding that “public service failures and corruption hurt poor people the most”.
South Africa needs to depoliticise this arena, while upping technical and specialist professional skills among public servants and improving relations between national, provincial and local government.
“We do have good and competent public servants who try their best to serve with integrity. But too many of us are not treated with the dignity we expect and deserve. We need to build a humane, caring public service,” Ramphele says.
• Build a restructured economy – The violent and tragic uprisings of Marikana and De Doorns have shown that there’s an urgent need to “restructure the foundations of our economy”.
“The mining and agricultural industries have to migrate to a business model that invests in skills of its workers, uses innovative technologies to remain competitive and create new type of jobs and opportunities for all.”
The fact that 71% of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 get by on social grants, and not through meaningful participation in the economy, is appalling, Ramphele adds.
• Build a 21st century education and training system – The collapse of education in state schools is a “grave threat to our future” as indicated by a system that is willing to accept 30% as a pass mark.
In order to restructure and revitalise our economy, public education and training needs to be turned around and solid investment in information technology teaching needs to be a priority.
“The time has come for us to work together to establish an education and training system that re-ignites the self-confidence and hopes of young South Africans to be part of the shaping of the country of our dreams,” Ramphele says.
“This requires a bold national leadership that can unite South Africans in the promotion of excellent education for all citizens. Ours must be a society in which every child matters and their talents are nurtured to enable them to become the best that they can be.”
• Restore our standing in Africa and the world – South Africa no longer enjoys the authority and respect in the international community as it did when it first became a democracy, This, says Ramphele, is because our leaders have failed to align our foreign policy with the human rights principles enshrined in the Constitution.
The country’s positions on Zimbabwe, Darfur and Myanmar have been “at variance with our human rights principles”, while appeasing foreign powers like China by refusing the Dalai Lama an entry visa have also diminished our global standing, according to Ramphele.
It’s the lack of a strategic approach that “has left us in a situation where we have the worst of all sides of migration”, she adds.
“Our failure to protect our borders has created a huge burden of uncontrolled economic and political refugees. This burden has generated a virulent xenophobic response from poor people who are forced to compete with much more determined migrants and refugees. We should be the magnet for Africa’s most talented skilled people and be able to respond systematically to deserving political refugees.”
Concluding her speech yesterday on Constitution Hill, Ramphele, declared, “I invite all compatriots to work with us to build a South Africa we can all be proud of. We owe it to you, our children, and your children to leave them a legacy of a great country. I have put up my hand. I ask you all to join this effort. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less. Our mothers and grandmothers deserve nothing less. All South Africans deserve nothing less.”