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.

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