So Mamphela Ramphele has re-entered South African politics in a big way. Ramphele, an anti-apartheid stalwart, Black Consciousness Leader, Medical Doctor, and academic leader recently announced the formation of a new political party, Agang, which she casts in the role of saving her country. Coming from a Sotho word meaning “Build,” Agang represents a frontal challenge to the ruling African National Congress.
But the question that emerges almost right away is whether Agang will be a viable opposition party that can draw more votes nationwide than the official opposition Democratic Alliance or if instead it will prove to be a short-lived vanity project along the lines of the ill-fated Congress of the People (COPE). COPE entered the political landscape with so much promise just a few years ago and barely survived one election cycle in which it was humiliated and splintered before it could establish a viable presence in opposition to the ANC.
President Jacob Zuma has built up enough animus to provide ammunition for an opposition party to bear fruit. His recent State of the Union address was more of the same pablum masking minimal successes. And Ramphele, whose speech to introduce Agang pulled few punches, carries the sort of gravitas that should give an opposition party momentum. Of course so too did, say, Terror Lekota, when he took the lead with COPE. Still, Ramphele has long been one of a small number of figures on most politically-aware South Africans’ wish list. The other big name on that short list was Cyril Ramaphosa, who recently returned to the political fray within Zuma’s ANC. Realistically Ramaphosa may well represent a greater threat to Zuma’s status quo than Ramphele does from without.
The ANC and DA both profess a lack of concern about the threat posed by Agang, the former justified by recent history of failed challengers on their side, the latter perhaps whistling past the graveyard. Still, the ANC, increasingly vulnerable, might want to look over its shoulder. Because Agang may just be the party that emerges to challenge the ANC’s post-Apartheid stronghold on South African politics.