Where are the millions the good doctor raked from her Black Economic Empowerment deals, asks Pinky Khoabane.
Johannesburg - Speculation was rife last Sunday that a merger between the DA and AgangSA was on the cards. “Ridiculous,” Agang’s people retorted. By 10am on Tuesday, a few hours after Agang’s denials, the speculation had turned into reality.
With the spectacular fall from grace of Agang’s founder Mamphela Ramphele following reports of her party’s financial woes, which sent her scuttling into Helen Zille’s arms, the big question must be: Where are the millions the good doctor raked from her Black Economic Empowerment deals?
She and long-time friend Zille can spin her failure to deliver a party that was an alternative to the DA and the ANC all they want, the truth is that this is a monumental failure on Ramphele’s part, more so as she had been touted as the hope for South Africa. She has failed and betrayed her supporters and staff in the process.
Then again, her deception dates back to the early days of her party when she invoked Steve Biko and, in that way, led everyone to believe she was returning to her roots of Black Consciousness politics when, in truth, her recent history has had nothing to do with Black Consciousness.
Interestingly, she’s now invoking former president Nelson Mandela and his death as the straw that broke the camel’s back, forcing her into this urgent marriage with the DA.
How Mandela – who retired from politics a long time ago and has spent the last few years extremely ill – becomes the game changer is just one of the many yarns she’s spun to explain her litany of inconsistencies. Much has been written about these and I shall not bore you with them here.
But back to the point of the money.
Where are the millions supposedly made by the other BEE beneficiaries who were associated with her party? People like former president Thabo Mbeki’s brother, Moeletsi Mbeki, were alleged to have been part of the AgangSA project. In fact, as soon as she had announced her intentions to enter the political ring and the name of her party was revealed, it soon emerged that its website was allegedly paid for by a company she co-owned with Mbeki and political analyst Prince Mashele.
Ramphele and Mbeki, despite being vociferous opponents of BEE, had made millions, we were told. Ramphele shocked the country when, in an attempt to prove her values of transparency and accountability, disclosed that her net worth was R55 million and challenged President Jacob Zuma to do same. As if that that was not enough of a shock for the citizens from whom she had been asking for donations of as “little as R100”, Forbes list of the 2011 richest women in Africa put her at R500m. Ramphele’s team disputed the amount but Forbes magazine stuck to its story, questioning her silence when the story was first published, two years earlier. AgangSA’s communications director, Thabo Leshilo, had at the time asked the magazine to explain its evaluation but that story has since died a slow death – much like the party itself.
From the treatment she meted out to him in the 24 hours before making the announcement of her marriage to the DA, it may be that she had also spun him then. Ramphele told Leshilo to dispel any notion of her joining the DA, as late as the night before the announcement. When the natural course for noble people would be to apologise, Ramphela called this level of deceit “visionary leadership”.
What cannot be disputed, however, is the fact that anything between R50m and R500m is a lot of money which should have taken care of AgangSA for much longer than she has lasted.
Granted, there has been speculation that she had, in the few months since existence, blown R30m on the party but I can’t imagine what she could have done with it. Her head office in Braamfontein didn’t look like it could have cost her that much. Journalists who were invited to an announcement by the party’s rebels were met with what one described as “threadbare office with no furniture and no carpet”.
Yes, she has also changed the logo thrice during the same period – from the yellow map of South Africa to the latest ring with South Africa’s colours – but surely that couldn’t have taken up all the funds. Could her appointment of an American firm that helped President Barack Obama win elections have anything to do with it?
Hers is not the first political party of so-called BEE heavyweights to face financial upheavals. Cope, touted as the alternative to the ANC when it was formed ahead of the last elections, suffered massive financial setbacks shortly after it was formed, despite its association to wealthy black businessmen who had made their money from BEE deals, giving credence to the much-held belief that most of the BEE wealth is on paper only. The majority, if not all, of the black partners involved in these deals have no option but to take out loans to purchase the shares, often at prime interest rates. And so, while their partnerships affirm the white-owned companies with the BEE status required to procure government deals, the people who make the real money are the white partners.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in BEE ownership deals, which Ramphele avoids to mention when she lambastes BEE, is that she’s among the few who benefited from the policy but, even more importantly, the white-owned companies that go into these deals have been the biggest immediate beneficiaries. While the dividends earned by the black partners goes back into servicing loans, the white partners accrue immediate benefits.
Ramphele is correct in saying that South Africa deserves a better means of spreading the economic wealth. It cannot be that the wealth of this country still remains in white hands and that the policies geared to spread the wealth go against the objectives for which they were developed.
To borrow some aspects of Leshilo’s line as he rubbished speculation that his boss was joining the DA: The notion that one can be R500m rich and struggle to pay for the upkeep of her organisation even before the year is over is ridiculous. Yes, Doc, South Africa deserves a better BEE ownership policy.
* Khoabane is a businesswoman, author and writer
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers