Mamphela Ramphele exits South

Dr Mamphela Ramphele, leader of the Agang SA political party speaking about the visions and values of Agang SA on a recent trip to London. Agang is a Sesotho meaning build. 21st January 2014. ©Photo: Zute Lightfoot

Mamphela Ramphele exits South African politics

Dr Mamphele Ramphele announces her departure from South African politics following a turbulent year with the newly-formed Agang SA

Mamphela Ramphele exits South

Dr Mamphela Ramphele, leader of the Agang SA political party speaking about the visions and values of Agang SA on a recent trip to London. Agang is a Sesotho meaning build. 21st January 2014. ©Photo: Zute Lightfoot

Dr Mamphela Ramphele Leader of Agang SA

The leader of Agang SA Mamphela Ramphele has announced that she will be turning her back to politics after weeks of infighting among high-ranking party leaders following the May elections.

But despite the many disagreements and leadership challenges, Ramphele said that she will be leaving party politics with a sad heart after having accomplished her aim of “creating a political vehicle to enable those who remain outside the political mainstream to have a voice.”

“I have decided to leave party politics and return to working alongside my fellow citizens in civil society to pursue the dream of transforming ours into a more just and prosperous society,” Ramphele said in her public statement.

Dr Ramphele had announced almost two months ago already that she would be taking a prolonged “break” from the political stage for a considerable amount of time, but her statement had not hinted at Ramphele having written the final chapter of her short career in party politics already.

Despite being a struggle protégé, Mamphela Ramphele had never actively participated in South African party politics before announcing that she would be forming a party in the lead-up to the 2014 general elections. With the initial hype around the newly-formed Agang SA, the multimillionaire businesswoman managed to attract enough attention to launch her new brand, but was criticised from the beginning for not actually stating what would distinguish her party from other voting alternatives.

Following a botched up merger with the Democratic Alliance (DA) at the beginning of the year, Ramphele’s star soon began to fade, with Agang disappearing from the limelight in the run-up to the elections. Painfully underfunded and unable to pay the wages of her employees, Ramphele’s party relied heavily on the dedication of volunteers, whose “ubuntu” spirit may have been an inspiration to many of her party members but did not manage to impress potential voters, who often felt that something must be awry with her broke and broken party.

On 7th May, Agang SA barely managed to attract 0.28 percent of the votes — roughly one out of every 400 voters only. With just a little over 52,000 votes, the party still managed to get two seats in parliament, both of which were contested heavily among Agang heavyweights. When an ill-founded compromise resulted in giving the two parliamentary seats to political novices, it became clear that Mamphela Ramphele had had enough of the game. With Agang also spiralling into corruption scandals, with its new leadership accusing Ramphele of embezzling money from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), she realised that this was the right time to sing her swan song.

Dr Ramphele may be a seasoned veteran at many things, and it was her experience on so many levels which she could have brought to the table in the field of politics. However, it was also her lack of experience in that very field, which in the end cemented her undoing. She had described her foray into politics as “the most exhilarating, daunting, and challenging time” of her life, but it would prove true that she couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen on t he long run.

In an exclusive interview with last April, DA leader Helen Zille had already predicted that Dr Ramphele’s political career would soon come to an imminent end.

“In any event, Mamphela has spent her political capital because she’s not going to do very well in these elections and there’s not much she can bring to any other party now.”

Whether or not the private friendship between the two most recognisable ladies of contemporary South African history has been patched up in the meantime is unknown. But the DA leader is very clear on not accepting another political approach by Dr Ramphele:

“After all that, I’m over it, and it won’t happen again. Our relationship has suffered too much.”

Following the many disappointments of the past year, Dr Ramphele has hinted at a future involvement at the grassroots level of civil society only — perhaps a lesson she has learned during her short stint in the dirty business of politics.

“As to my future contribution, as the months have passed by after the election in May, I have become increasingly convinced that my experience and knowledge is best utilised to help build an empowered and aware citizenry. I return to civil society to continue to pursue the idealism that has driven me all my life as an active citizen.”

By Sertan Sanderson, 2014