Johannesburg - Poor people had been the biggest losers since the advent of democracy in South Africa, while ANC-aligned politicians live the high life in the midst of increasing poverty.
This was the overall message of former Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) activist-turned-businesswoman Mamphela Ramphele when she announced the formation of her new political party on Monday.
The new party will contest next year’s national general elections.
Ramphele claimed that she had never been a member of any political party and the decision to form Agang (let’s build) had not come easily.
She suggested that the era of black consciousness, which she along with Steve Biko – the father of her son, Hlumelo – had advocated during their student days, was over.
Ramphele said the country should adopt a South African consciousness, adding that “ethnicity, religion and economic class come first to mind for the majority of citizens”.
She said: “How can we build the country of our dreams if we do not identify intimately with it and make it what defines us? How can we build a country united in its diversity if we do not put the country first in our souls and hearts? We must build a sense of common South African citizenship.”
During the announcement at the Women’s Gaol at Constitution Hill, in Braamfontein, on Monday, Ramphele said her party would prioritise the fight against corruption, improve education – particularly to increase the matric pass mark, and to deal with the failure of public service.
“Our country is at risk because self-interest has become the driver of many of those in positions of authority who should be focused on serving the public.
“The great society to which we committed ourselves following our relatively peaceful political transition is rapidly unravelling before our eyes.
“The impressive achievements of the past 18 years are being undermined by poor governance at all levels of society. An unchecked culture of impunity and the abuse of power as well as public resources rob children, young people, rural and urban poor people of the fruits of freedom,” Ramphele said.
She said corruption, nepotism and patronage had become the hallmarks of the conduct of many in the public service.
“Corruption is theft. It steals textbooks from our school children. It steals drugs from sick people. It steals social grants from old people and poor children. It robs citizens of hope and destroys dreams,” Ramphele said.
The ANC and some of its aligned union leaders also came under attack. “Governance failure is also reflected in the manner in which powerful vested interests have undermined key decision-making and proper management of assets of the state,” she said.
“This is reflected by the seamless manner in which the party, the government (and) the president… have merged into a monolith of impunity.
“The ANC’s Chancellor House investment arm represents the most blatant example of how the governing party has abused the state to benefit its loyalists and to sustain itself in power.
“The most troubling aspect of Chancellor House is the lack of transparency of its deals. What we do know is that the participation of Chancellor House as a BEE partner of Hitachi, a supplier of Eskom’s Medupi Power Station, makes a mockery of the ANC’s claim of accountable and transparent governance.
“Poor people are the biggest losers as a result of the unholy business-government alliance to aggressively pursue commercial interests for political elites,” Ramphele said.
Without mentioning the names of union leaders with close ties to the ANC, Ramphele said workers were also victims of the interests of union leaders who had close ties with those in government.
She also said that poor performance in the public service was a major obstacle to providing citizens with quality public service.
She said a lack of competence was undermining competitiveness, economic growth, job creation and the general improvement of living standards in the country.
“Our failure to create a competent, professional and non-partisan public service (affects) the quality of governance at all levels.
“Public service failures and corruption hurt poor people most,” Ramphele insisted.
She said her party was committed to establishing a competent, performance-managed and professional state bureaucracy that serviced the public.
Ramphele was emphatic that the country had all the necessary depth of expertise and experience.
“We need to depoliticise the public service beyond agreed levels where political deployment of competent dedicated professionals is desirable.
“We are determined to promote the development of technical and specialist skills among public servants, improving relations between national, provincial and local government.
“We do have good and competent public servants who try their best to serve with integrity,” she said.
“But too many of us are not treated with the dignity we expect and deserve,” Ramphele said.