Yesterday Mamphela Ramphele launched a new ‘political platform’ in South Africa, a move that may have important implications for South Africa’s political landscape.
Or it may not. Political parties that are created around the image of its charismatic leader often struggle to sustain the initial enthusiasm: think of Bantu Holomisa’s UDM. And where a person rather than principles guides policy, the internal debate – the checks and balances that established political parties offer – often disappears. Instead the party’s constituents are subjected to the whims and feelings of a person in need of approval. That is a dangerous situation: Robert Mugabe was globally celebrated for his role in Zimbabwe’s independence and economic success of the 1980s; today he is ridiculed and chastised.
Don’t get me wrong: Mamphela Ramphele is a leader of great repute and character. She has the perfect CV for South African politics; I suspect that Helen Zille would have offered to step back had Ramphele decided to join the DA. At the moment, though, Ramphele’s political platform (called Agang, an unfortunate choice in my opinion – their followers have already been called ‘Agangsters’ by opposition parties) is little more than an idea, a hope in the minds of the electorate. Here’s one of their tweets: “Do you remember our commitment to promote human dignity (Ubuntu) & banish humiliation & disrespect of our apartheid past?” Not exactly what I’d call a policy statement.
And perhaps that’s exactly the issue I have with this new addition: it is the easy way out for Ramphele. What South Africans need more of is the execution of existing policies, not fluffy statements that is meant to make us all feel better about the future. We don’t need an economic CODESA: we have a brilliant plan for the future – the National Development Plan – compiled by one of the few leaders that can match Ramphele’s impressive CV, Trevor Manuel. It’s a plan adopted by the ruling party, touted during the State of the Nation speech, and one with which the main opposition agrees. Even academic economists are happy with it. But the success of a plan is judged on its implementation. What we now need are the entrepreneurs, the unemployed, the national, provincial and local government officials, the teachers’ unions, the trade unions, the unions for minorities, the business, church and community leaders, the farm owners and farm workers, the mine owners and mine workers, and all other South Africans in-between to buy into this plan. This is not easy. In fact, it sounds terribly difficult.
Which is the reason someone with Ramphele’s capacity should have asked herself what is it she can do to help make the National Development Plan a reality. Starting Agang might not be the best way to do this.