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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Agang One Last Time (I hope)

Those following the Agang saga will know that the two MPs were trying to gain control of the party through the courts. What follows is my personal position, rather than that of all involved. Even so, when I talk about fundraising, I mean for all concerned, not just for myself.

Background

Let’s briefly review the timeline that leads to here:
  • 7 May election – despite doing badly, Agang wins two seats
    • at this stage the party has deep problems: a huge debt, communication with members and supporters breaks down, the member database is not accessible because of unpaid bills, the NEC is collapsing because of resignations
  • 12 June – fraud allegations against the leader surface from an unconventional source – a “provincial spokesperson” Donald Tontsi with no mandate to speak on such matters goes public
  • June 16 weekend – I am in Cape Town to try to understand what is going on since the Tontsi statements sound crazy and find no substance to the allegations and start to understand just how deep the problems are; Dr Ramphele decides to reconstitute the NEC because it has become dysfunctional and is not addressing the problems that are threatening to destroy the party
  • 19 June – Agang task Team appointed by the leader to sort out the mess meets, delayed by the promise of the other side to contribute members, who do not show up; Andries Tloumma plays the same game with mediation: agrees, then reneges without excusing himself
  • 29 June – last of a series of meetings called without any recognized process culminates in Tloumma, Tshishonga and one other original NEC member proclaiming themselves a “quorum” despite precedents that the NEC required at least 4 members for a quorum, announce they are suspending the leader and create a new NEC
  • 3 July – The NEC Dr Ramphele created announces expulsion of those behind the 29 June meeting, who  take the matter to court, refusing attempts at a negotiated solution; meanwhile Dr Ramphele announces her withdrawal from politics

To court

Those of us who were asked by Mamphela Ramphele (MAR as she is affectionately known, after her initials) to join her reconstituted NEC and task team (intended to revive the party’s flagging fortunes by addressing pressing issues like finance and collapse of our membership systems) were the target of a high court interdict in Cape Town.

We decided that it would be pointless to contest the matter since parties that decide their affairs in court lose the public. Nonetheless we felt, at the urging of members who didn’t want history to be defined by the winning side of the court battle, that we had to put our side. This we did by submitting a lengthy affidavit (which you can read here).

One of the effects of the interdict is that none of us named as respondents is entitled to speak for the party in any capacity. At the time, I was a provincial spokesperson in good standing. Their destabilization campaign started with unauthorized spokespersons making wild statements. It seems they do favour party discipline in the strictest terms when it suits their cause.

Where we are now is that the MPs’ faction has won control of the party and the problems that have existed for more than 3 months are still there to be solved. They now have to be solved by a party that had made itself look ridiculous, and which no longer has a leader of international (let alone national) stature.

Fraud claims abandoned – but not the end

By this stage, MAR was out of the fight. Though named as a respondent, she had withdrawn from the party, and used the case to persuade the MPs to drop their accusations of fraud, and we took that as a victory, because their case had been built on the claims that she was sidelining them to cover up this alleged fraud, which now turned out to have no substance. But the other side disagreed and pressed on, and our understanding was that putting this affidavit to the judge would not put us in line for costs, because we were merely adding facts for consideration, and agreeing to abide by his decision.

We were taken completely by surprise when the matter went to court Monday 4 August and the judge not only found in favour of the MPs and their supporters, but awarded costs against us. If you do not contest a matter, is not surprising that you lose. What is surprising is that the judge would award costs against us without inviting us to argue against that. We will be asking for reasons to see if we can do anything about this but in the meantime have to face the possibility of heavy costs.
Since one of the details in the order is that we cannot claim to act for Agang that in effect means we carry the costs in our personal capacity. If you think that is unfair, we invite your to help us with those costs. Anything we collect in excess of that need will go to our new active citizens movement, which you can sign up for here. If you want to support us, please fill in the form below, and deposit the money to our account.

Friday, 25 July 2014

After hearing news of events in Cape Town today, I issued the following statement.
Following Agang’s MPs withdrawal of all allegations directly or indirectly made against former party leader, Dr Mamphela Ramphele in the Cape High Court today, Judge Dennis Davis gave members of AgangSA until Monday 14:00 to file opposing affidavits as to why Agang’s MPs should be expelled from Parliament.

This followed an interim inter​dict granted ​on 1​7 July by which the MPs sought to prevent their expulsion on the basis of serious allegations made by them against Dr Ramphele. Having withdrawn their allegations today, the court will have to decide whether there ​is ​still a basis for the interim order as previously granted which prevents their expulsion​. Judge Davies also heard that 14 respondents to the matter had not been given reasonable time to respond. Two members of Agang’s NEC appeared in the Cape High Court today within minutes of the matter being heard – Nameka Mguzulo and Yunus Vollenhoven. The Judge also said​ it would be necessary to establish which i​s the legal National Executive Committee leading Agang in terms of its Constitution​, after agreeing to hear submissions from the convenor of Agang's Presidential Task Team, Merle ​O’Brien appointed by Dr Ramphele to investigate and report on the state of the party.

The matter will be heard on Wednesday at the Cape High Court by Judge Davies.
For those who missed my previous Agang article, I was sucked into leadership issues on 13 June after allegations implicating Dr Ramphele in fraud surfaced. I had sight of the “evidence” the other side produced, and it was clear they had nothing, and this was a smear campaign aimed at destabilizing the party.

Finally, today, I am vindicated, along with MAR as she is know affectionately, and those who supported her.

Roll on Wednesday, when the judge will make his findings.

All along, we have not opposed the MP’s interdict and indeed most of the NEC MAR appointed has resigned from the party. We recognize that a fight to the finish for the party will finish the party. All we want is the truth to out.

And get on with our lives. We are working on a new active citizens social movement that will take the best ideas of Agang away from politics. You can sign up here. Indicating intent to resign from Agang is optional – many of those signing up are not members, and a few are staying on in Agang. We don’t mind because it is not a political party.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Why I Quit Agang

I recently quit from Agang. The party had some laudable goals including empowering ordinary people, and putting them back in charge of their future – rekindling of the fire that drove the Black Consciousness movement 40 years ago. Many of these goals  can be pursued pretty well without political representation – all it takes is working in your community.

If you like the idea of positive work in the community, we will soon be launching a new movement with those goals, taking the best of Agang out of the political space.

If interested, sign up here. You have the option also to indicate intent to resign from Agang, but the new initiative is open to all, not just former Agang members.

In the last South African general election, I was a candidate for Agang SA at provincial and national level. I was number 2 on the Eastern Cape list (much to my surprise – I had not offered to run with any expectation of such a high spot) and number 18 on the national list. I was also on the Eastern Cape executive with two portfolios, Policy Convenor and Spokesperson.

I became involved in the national leadership on 13 June, when I had exchanged emails with various members expressing concern about where the party was headed. On that day, I received a phone call from Dr Ramphele inviting me to Cape Town to help sort out the mess. I booked my ticket (at my own expense) and spent the weekend with her and other supporters. Here are some of the things I discovered:
  • the fraud allegations against her were based on flimsy evidence that clearly implicated someone else rather than her in inappropriate paperwork submitted to the IEC
  • the party had a massive debt, including over R1-million owed to SARS (South Africa’s tax agency)
    • how, I wondered would a organization not trading for profit owe so much in taxes?
    • party officials had paid themselves huge executive salaries and not bothered with basics like ensuring that PAYE (payroll income tax deductions) was remitted to SARS
  • the party had lost control of its member database because of failure to pay service providers
    • we could not do a membership audit needed as a first step towards democratizing our party structures; that included a long-overdue national elective conference
    • we could not communicate with members
  • the NEC generally was not functioning
    • key members had resigned and not been replaced
    • meetings were held without minutes and agendas
    • meetings had to be cancelled for lack of a quorum
    • the critical tasks to fix the financial and infrastructural problems were not being tackled
  • the NEC was supposed to have met on 12 June, when it could have dealt with the fraud allegations
    • only 3 members had turned up so it could take no decisions, lacking a quorum
    • meanwhile wild and incorrect rumours of fraud were circulating, and the two MPs (Tshishonga and Tloumma) were doing nothing to stop this – including press statements being issued by previously unknown “spokespersons”
It was in this atmosphere that supporters advised Dr Ramphele to invoke the extraordinary powers the party’s constitution conferred on the founding leader to reconstitute the NEC. She took care in so doing not to fill the positions of Deputy President and Chairperson, leaving open the possibility of reconciliation with the MPs. She also decided to appoint a task team to fix the problems the party was facing, mainly getting its membership records in order to facilitate democratic processes, and getting its finances under control.

I ended up both on the reconstituted NEC and the task team. Needless to say, the MPs rejected all of these changes; having sat on their asses for 6 weeks and done nothing to stabilize the party, they now used the possibility of being sidelined from the NEC as an excuse to destabilize it further and grab control.

It is important to understand that in South Africa’s voting system, you do not vote for MPs in their own right. You vote for a party, often strongly identified with its leader. Between elections, MPs do not have a constituency or voting district that can call them to account. If MPs run the party without any controls, they are not accountable until the next election. A coup by MPs therefore is a serious subversion of democracy.

Starting around mid-May, a series of national inter-provincial meetings was called by obscure members who had no standing to do so. The Eastern Cape executive was concerned about the intent of these meetings and declined to attend, accompanied by an increasing list of provincial chairs. At the end, we had support in this stand from four other provinces. It is important to understand that the support from the five provinces concerned was from elected leaders. The only province where the leadership was in dispute was Gauteng, where the dissenting faction had suspended the leadership, and Dr Ramphele had reinstated them.

While Agang had not established comprehensive democratic processes, the provincial executives were elected. Calling a series of meetings, culminating in the 29 June meeting that “voted” in a new NEC and “suspended” Dr Ramphele, without involving the majority of the provincial executives, therefore can hardly be considered democratic. And this from a group that accuse her of being dictatorial and undemocratic.

At an early stage of this, Tshishonga was ducking and diving. While he did nothing to help stabilize the party, he professed no involvement with the instability. His failure to show up at the 12 June NEC meeting to me pointed to irresponsibility at best, complicity at worst. He and Tloumma were in full possession of the facts about the fraud allegation at that stage. Their clear duty as senior office bearers was to give Dr Ramphele the opportunity to examine and explain the evidence, rather than to use it as a weapon against her in a power grab.

By the 29 June meeting, we felt we had exhausted all options for reconciliation. Tloumma had agreed to mediation with Dr Ramphele, and failed to show up at the appointed time. He had also agreed to bring in new members to the task team to make it more representative, and reneged.

Even so, after Dr Ramphele announced her withdrawal from politics on 8 July, we made one more try. The answer: accept their new NEC. We could not accept that their NEC had any constitutional validity, and negotiation in any case requires some give and take from both sides, not a fixed position.

When the MPs and their acolytes took the matter to court to obtain an interdict to enforce their interpretation of events, we decided it would be futile to oppose them. While their case was riddled with logic and factual errors, the party was R20-million in debt with unpaid salaries and creditors. Any action in the High Court involves significant costs, and we could not ethically commit to such costs when so much money was owed. We also could not see a positive outcome: no matter who won the case, the public does not warm to parties that conduct their affairs by acrimonious lawsuits. So we did not oppose, and the judge gave them exactly what they wanted.

In a situation where I was prohibited from speaking for the party – noting that I was a provincial spokesperson and not deposed from that position – and where the party’s NEC was now fully under the control of those who were willing to destroy the party to keep their seats in parliament, I had no option but to walk away, along with the rest of the NEC that the court had overturned.

So the short summary: if you are happy with the new management of Agang, stay with them. If not, join us in our new initiative. If you liked the idea of Agang but didn’t buy into it as a party, let’s hear from you too. Here is the link again.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The South African Opposition Challenge

Split of the vote since 1994: ANC is essentially at its
1994 level after increases in 1999 and 2004; the DA
has about the same share as the NP+DP in 1994.
When the dust has settled on the elections and the DA and EFF are over their triumph at a big swing in their direction (5.6% to the DA taking them to 22.2%, 6.4% from nothing to the EFF), we have to sit back and look at the big picture.

The total gains of these two parties are more than 3 times the swing of 3.75% from the ANC.

A remarkable thing about this election is how little the ANC was hurt by a string of scandals and blunders. While a swing of nearly 4% is pretty big, the ANC’s share of the vote in 2014 is only 0.5% below its level in the first democratic election in 1994 (illustrated, right).

Most of the DA and EFF increase has come from the collapse of other opposition party votes. Part of the DA swing is also accounted for by taking over Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats, who scored nearly 1% last time. COPE alone lost nearly 7%, and most minor parties lost votes.

While the DA has done well to increase its votes every election, chasing after votes of other minor parties has had the inevitable consequence of the DA losing coherence, with nasty infighting and selective leaks, some of which can only emanate from senior leadership. It was this selective leak culture that made the proposed deal with Agang very difficult to stitch together – leaks forced a premature announcement, leading to confusion.

Vote since 1994 including NP and NNP
Vote since 1994 including National Party 1994: the
opposition has essentially gone sideways and the ANC
has not really been punished for lack of performance.
The DA, to put things in perspective, in 2014 has about the same vote share as the combined Democratic Party (1.7%) and National Party (20.4%) vote in 1994 (total 22.1%). While this may be from a different demographic split (if you look at provincial votes, there are some big shifts), the DA has not significantly grown the opposition vote. In fact, given that they have picked up some support from black voters who would not have voted for the National Party, it is surprising that their vote share is no bigger than the combined DP-NP vote of 1994.

Look at the second picture: the dashed lines show that the conservative opposition vote has barely shifted since 1994, as has that of the ANC, while other opposition parties have been trading places rather than growing overall.

Another truly remarkable thing about this election is the way communities that have most reason to be upset about government failure still vote solidly ANC – sometimes with 80-90% of the vote. Ironically, where government has failed less, opposition parties score more votes. The DA has a real shot at winning a number of metros where the ANC vote has dropped to close to or even below 50%. These include Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela and Tshwane.

Despite all the complaints about potholes, e-tolls and the like, services in the metros are way better than in ANC-run small towns and deep rural areas. Where I live in Makana in the Eastern Cape, some township residents have been without water for months, some even years. Most rural schools are of a poor standard, and many rural communities have little or no cash economy besides social grants, with no prospect of jobs.

The ANC meanwhile is increasingly focused on pandering to the needs of a self-serving elite. The opposition made too much of Nkandla, allowing the ANC to paint a rosy picture of “good stories” – as if Nkandla was a glitch. Yet by the government’s own figures, R33-billion was lost to waste and corruption last financial year, an Nkandla every three days. No, not a glitch. This is the way the government usually does business.

 To resolve the mystery of why so many people who have cause for complaint vote ANC solidly, we have to look to history for why the excluded poor do not automatically rise up against a self-serving elite. In medieval times, a “good” lord ensured his serfs didn’t starve, since they were valuable as a pool of labour and as cannon fodder when a lord was called on to provide soldiers. Serfs were never allowed too much though – that would give them ideas above their station. Feudalism eventually ended when labour became scarce after Europe was depopulated by crusades, creating an opening for a working class with commercially valued labour.

As De Tocqueville observed, revolution broke out in France not because conditions were especially bad there, but because they were better than average in Europe – frustrated hope is a much bigger drive for change than utter hopelessness.

And that is the key to opposition politics in South Africa: very poor people on the edge of starvation are inherently conservative. They do not rebel against the existing order, not matter how unfair, if the existing order can instil in them the fear that they will do even worse if things change.

How unfair is the existing order? The worst off 20% of the population earn less than 3% of national income, and more than half of that is social grants. The best-off 10% account for over 50% of national income.

When out campaigning for Agang, one of the most incongruous sights was seeing a top of the line Merc festooned with ANC socks on its side mirrors cruising through a scene of extreme poverty. Why did those who had been left behind not bitterly resent the theft of public resources that went into that Merc? For the same reason a lord and retinue of knights in shining armour could parade through scenes of medieval poverty without risk of attack. Feudalism was such a complete trap that the victims could see no way out.

Here’s bad news for opposition parties: feudalism was an extremely enduring system. However, a key difference between the old kind and the new kind is we nominally live in a democracy. It is theoretically possible for a political movement to arise that challenges the system. It hasn’t happened yet, judging from the voting pattern of the last 20 years.

Why did Agang not do well this last election? Part of it was the difficulty of scaling up a new organization from nothing – the EFF for example had a large chunk of the ANC Youth League to build on. Another part was we were trying to address this dysfunction of the political system by addressing the left out voters – but the inherent conservatism of the victimized poor makes them a difficult constituency to win over. Much has been made of the failed DA deal – that was a setback, but cannot explain the whole problem.

I supported Agang because of Mamphela Ramphele’s history in Black Consciousness. What we badly need in this country is a revitalizing of hope, and the BC message of self-reliance, self-respect and rejection of externally-imposed limits is very much needed in South Africa today. It remains to be seen if the Agang project can survive the setback of a very low vote – but it is a worthwhile project and I intend to continue to pursue its goals.