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Agang: Contender or Pretender?

Agang: Contender or Pretender?

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.



Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid