Ex-Gold Fields Chairwoman Seeks to Topple S. Africa’s ANC

Former Gold Fields Ltd. Chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele said Agang SA, a political movement she founded three months ago, has attracted 10,000 volunteers and is set on toppling South Africa’s ruling African National Congress in next year’s elections.

“The reception has been overwhelming,” Ramphele, 65, said in an interview in Cape Town yesterday. “The feedback we have got from South African people is they want change and they want it now. We believe we can win enough support to form a government, either on our own or in coalition with others.”

The ANC has dominated South African politics since taking power under Nelson Mandela in the first all-race elections in 1994, winning almost two-thirds of the vote in 2009. Its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance, had 17 percent support.

A medical doctor, social anthropologist and author, Ramphele resigned her position at Gold Fields after more than two years to enter politics. She fought against apartheid and was once a partner of Steve Biko, who founded South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement and died in 1977 after sustaining brain damage during a beating while in police custody.

Nineteen years after the end of white minority rule, discontent is mounting over a 25 percent unemployment rate and income inequality that ranks among the highest in the world. South Africa had a record 173 protests by poor, shantytown residents last year over a lack of housing and basic services, according to Johannesburg-based research group Municipal IQ.

‘No Return’

“This government has come to a point of no return,” Ramphele said. “They cannot change the system of governance because there is no political will to do so. In any other democracy they would have been asked to fall on their sword.”

The ANC draws most of its support from black voters loyal to the party because of its fight against apartheid. Breakaway groups from the ANC, including the United Democratic Movement and Congress of the People, have failed to make a dent into the ANC’s popularity.

“South Africans, in my view, are very wary of small parties that have not demonstrated the capacity to govern,” Prince Mashele, executive director at the Johannesburg-based Centre for Politics and Research, said in a phone interview today. “My sense is Agang will suffer a similar fate to other smaller parties that came and disappeared. I think if it’s lucky it’s going to get five seats in Parliament.”

Build Dreams

Prior to being appointed chairwoman of Gold Fields in November 2010, Ramphele served as a director of Anglo American Plc, the largest investor in South African mining, and managing director of the World Bank.

She quit all her business posts in February to create Agang SA -- meaning “Build South Africa.”

“We can and must build the South Africa of our dreams,” Ramphele said. “People are ready to stand up and say: ‘You know what, enough is enough.’ We want to be treated with dignity, we want to have the kind of political leadership we can believe in.”

Agang will be transformed into a political party next month, when it will release its policy positions and the names of a number of high-profile South Africans who have joined its ranks.

“So far, Ramphele has not demonstrated that she has a collective leadership bigger than her,” Mashele said. “She is the only person associated with her party. Even though as a person she has credibility in South Africa, she can’t inspire millions of South African to vote for her party.”

Electoral Reforms

While Agang sees no need to change South Africa’s economic policies, microeconomic reforms are need to make it easier for businesses to operate and hire staff, Ramphele said.

Agang is also campaigning for electoral reforms to make public representatives directly accountable to their constituents and for state workers to be barred from doing private work.

Coalition talks with the Democratic Alliance, the United Democratic Movement and other opposition parties are ongoing, Ramphele said.

“We believe it is time to realign the politics of this country,” she said. “It is very important to address the fragmentation of opposition voices. We have got to build collaboration, coalitions around defined principals.”

(Updates with analyst comment from eighth paragraph.)
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