So when Mamphela Ramphele invited me to chat with her about her plans to form a political party, I told her in no uncertain terms why it was a bad idea. I told her that her profile as a public figure was no gauge of her popularity in the country. I told her that to run a party she would need a political machine made up of pollsters, researchers, policy wonks, campaigners and organisers. I told her she would need to empathise with the masses and do stuff she did not like to do, such as kiss babies and toyi-toyi.
Ramphele looked at me knowing what I said was true – but she refused to give me the benefit of the doubt and went into this venture with her eyes wide shut. After a very short gestation period, the former World Bank managing director had no idea of the beast she was about to conceive. Her baby, Agang SA, came out all wrong – and everything about it was wrong: the name, the dress, the slogans, the launch. Several times Ramphele sought a bailout from DA leader Helen Zille, who in turn offered her the position of premier. She turned it down – and when she realised she was in deep trouble, she ran back to the DA, who then stupidly offered her their presidential post, created just for her. This union, sealed with the now infamous kiss, determined Ramphele’s fate for good.
Rejecting the offer soon after she had accepted it, her treachery had severe consequences for her and her party. Her life and her party unravelled unceremoniously. Thinking she could ride on her popularity, she ruled that party with an iron fist. Just as the Citizens Movement ended in complete disarray, with the corpses of young hopefuls strewn all over the place, so Agang imploded. Accusations and counteraccusations are being flung about as comrades accuse each other of pilfering funds – some accusing her of using the funds for her own pleasure, bodyguards and endless flights.
Sadly, this former vice-chancellor left behind a group of young people so disillusioned that many want nothing more to do with politics. Some claim they have not been paid; others claim no one is able to account for donor funds. It is unthinkable that a former medical doctor with a number of degrees could be so stupid. But that is what hubris does: it blinds one to one’s own follies.
No wonder City Press’ Mondli Makhanya reduced Agang’s implosion and Ramphele’s announcement that she was to quit politics to being one of the biggest farces in South Africa’s political history. The saddest aspect of this was Agang had the potential to groom young black career politicians. Instead, Agang’s idealistic youth have lost all respect for Ramphele’s leadership. And to add insult to injury, after such an almighty political fiasco she had the chutzpah to say: “I will therefore be leaving party politics, having accomplished my aim of creating a political vehicle to enable those who remain outside the political mainstream to have a voice.”
Here we have a case not only of how the mighty have fallen but also how the fallen remain mighty. The lesson for Ramphele: sometimes one must know when to quit and know one’s limitations. I hope she takes time out to reflect on the folly of her ways and initiate some truth and reconciliation with former comrades.