By Martin Plaut
Mamphela Ramphele, the leader of one of South Africa’s newest parties to challenge the African National Congress, has arrived in London to seek fresh funds to fight this year’s general election. Formerly a Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and Managing Director of the World Bank, Ms Ramphele is still best known as the partner of Steve Biko, the charismatic Black Consciousness leader left to haemorrhage to death in the back of a police van.
“When I travel around the country,” Ms Ramphele declared, “people tell me they are fed up, fed up, fed up!” She described the electorate as seeking fresh answers and unwilling to trust either President Jacob Zuma’s ANC or his main challenger, Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance.
Ms Ramphele founded her party, Agang (a Sotho word meaning ‘to build’) in February 2013. Now facing its first election, the party is seriously short of funds. “We don’t have the cash flow to do what we need to,” She admits. The party has raised around 50 million (£2.8 million) – half in cash and half in kind. But, says Ms Ramphele, this is only a quarter of the party’s election budget.
As a result, Agang is cutting back its activities and concentrating its efforts on four key areas: Guateng (around Johannesburg), the Eastern Cape, Western Cape (around Cape Town) and Limpopo in the far North. “We are going to fish where the fish are breeding,” she explains. “These areas account for 64% of the voters.”
So where might the extra cash come from? Like the other major parties, Agang is looking to the expatriate South African community, many of whom have made London their home. In the post apartheid period large South African companies, including the mining giant, Anglo-American and financial corporations like Old Mutual and Investec, re-located to the UK. Many staff came with them.
Ms Ramphele is looking to individuals working for these companies to help fund her campaign. But she is also looking to British investors in South Africa. “It is the cheapest insurance you can buy,” she argues. “The biggest risk to investments is the erosion of the rule of law and corruption.”
Assuming that the money is forthcoming, how does Ms Ramphele believe Agang will perform? “Last year we were looking at a 10 – 15% of the vote,” she says. “If we can raise R100 million (£5.6 million) we can do amazing things!” Her best-case scenario would see the party taking a fifth of all votes, mainly by mobilising women and the youth.
If the Democratic Alliance, currently the official opposition, was to win around 30% of the votes and the other smaller parties perform well, then, says Ms Ramphele, the ANC would see its share of popular support fall to below 50%.
“It is very, very possible,” she confidently predicts. This would require a collapse in the ruling party’s support. In 2009 the ANC won 65.9% of the vote. Since then the tide has moved against them. There have been a rash of corruption stories concerning both the party and President Zuma himself; the ANC’s youth wing is in disarray after the expulsion of the charismatic but troublesome Julius Malema and – above all – the party’s trade union allies in COSATU are divided, with some no longer willing to campaign for the ANC.
The latest opinion poll gives some credence to Ms Ramphele’s prediction, with ANC support at just 53%.
The bad news for Ms Ramphele is that the same poll shows Agang support at just 1%. The polling comes before the election date has been confirmed (it is expected in April or May) and before campaigning has really got under way. Ms Ramphele oozes charm and optimism, but she clearly has a long way still before she can persuade the South African electorate that they should give her their vote.