Agang’s funds dry up

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Mamphela Ramphele1

Independent Newspapers.

Mamphela Ramphele. Photographer: Armand Hough.

Just 10 months after launching, and its leader Dr Mamphela Ramphele declaring her millions, her fledgling political party AgangSA is broke.

With four months before the general elections, the party admitted that it could not pay its senior managers their December salaries because it had to make once-off payments to service-providers for its election campaign.

The Sunday Independent understands that the party has had payment woes with its volunteers stretching back to October.

Agang spokesman Thabo Leshilo said last week the party was financially secure and had not run out of money. But it appears the party is struggling from month to month to pay staff. “We, however, had to make huge, once-off payments in December on campaign materials; including posters, T-shirts and pamphlets in order to ensure supplies are in place when our campaign gets under way in earnest in the new year,” he said.

“We are expecting additional funding soon and management will be paid once the funds are cleared,” he said.

Agang has been visibly struggling to keep up with fierce election campaigns by its political rivals, including its fellow newcomer, the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema.

Its purse problems come as the party simultaneously struggles to raise funds. Party leader Ramphele, who launched the party last year after negotiations to join the leadership of the DA failed, is in a desperate drive to avoid what could be an embarrassing defeat at this year’s polls.

The Sunday Independent learnt about the salary trouble at the beginning of last month.

Ramphele raised eyebrows last year when she publicly released details about her financial assets as part of her campaign, claiming she was worth about R55 million and urging President Jacob Zuma to also declare all his financial assets.

Ramphele’s millions do not seem to have rubbed off on her political party, though, which is now desperately trying to raise funds abroad.

It is understood that the party has targeted a total of 4.8 million voters to make a significant impact at the polls next year. According to its own research, Agang would need to spend R960 000 to reach all these voters and make a meaningful impact at the polls. A senior official in the party, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed it was struggling to fund its political campaign and general operations.

“The party is struggling to raise money. Most companies, organisations and individuals do not offer support in cash, it is mostly in kind,” he said.

This was done by allowing the party to use venues for free and printing T-shirts, among others.

The Sunday Independent’s sister newspaper, The Saturday Star, reported that Ramphele had enlisted the services of a US lobbyist, Andrew Sillen, to raise funds for the party in the US.

This is recorded in the federal lobbyist registry of the US Department of Justice, where lobbyists working for foreign politicians or governments are required to register by US law.

The party’s registration in the US reflects that Sillen was employed by the party to “educate American citizens on the importance of forming a new political party through speeches by Dr Ramphele and other events”.

Sillen, who worked under Ramphele at the University of Cape Town, confirmed that the party was targeting “all countries where there are big South African populations”.

These include the UK, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

Another Agang official said the salaries of some of the party’s senior officials added to the financial woes, as many of them were recruited from the private sector from high-paying jobs.

“It is hard to sustain such high wage bills when the organisation is only starting up. While some may get comfortable jobs in Parliament if the party does well in the elections… some will eventually jump ship because of financial reasons,” she said.

The party’s financial woes were apparently discussed recently at a leadership meeting.

Leshilo earlier denied they were struggling to raise funds.

“Our fund-raising efforts are paying dividends and we’re busy sending out such party collateral as T-shirts, pamphlets, posters etc – in all official languages – to regions,” he said.

Agang’s foreign links have been one of the criticisms levelled against the party by its political opponents, particularly ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.

Mantashe said after the launch of Agang that the party was being funded by foreign organisations, and may be used to destabilise the country.

Leshilo

denied the party was lagging behind in its campaign, adding that Ramphele had “arguably the busiest schedule of any party leader, travelling around the country to take the party’s message to communities around the country”.

A former employee of Ramphele’s Citizens Movement, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal, said that that movement faced similar financial problems in which staff were also not paid for weeks or months on end, leading to an investigation by the Open Society Foundation.

 

The former staffer indicated that during the period when the movement struggled to pay his salary he was forced to take out a personal loan causing personal financial strain.

He had also left stable employment and was serving in a contractual position.

Open Society Foundation chairman Isaac Shongwe said its investigation on how the funds given to the Citizens Movement were spent was completed and that nothing untoward was found.

“We did the investigation and found that the money was spent in a proper way. The second tranche was not put forward because it was clear that there was no capacity at the movement,” said Shongwe.

Shongwe said the board needed to see progress and at the time issues at the movement were beginning to show. “We were happy as to how the first tranche of money was spent but we were worried about issues of sustainability.” - The Sunday Independent


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