Agang SA founder Mamphela Ramphele moves on

2015-02-22 15:00

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Party’s former leader lives a life of luxury while former staff members struggle to make ends meet, writes Biénne Huisman.

Life goes on for Mamphela Ramphele.

She lives in a mansion in the affluent Cape Town suburb of Camps Bay and insists on flying business class, but her former AgangSA staff members are battling to piece their lives together.

The former activist stepped down as Agang’s leader in July last year and has since resumed her duties as an “active citizen” who reigns over a financial empire estimated to be worth R55?million, according to her own public declaration of wealth.

Ramphele (67) drives a metallic-grey Jaguar and enjoys spa treatments at five-star Cape Town hotels.

Two weeks ago, Ramphele dropped by at the One&Only hotel’s ultraluxury spa on a man-made island flanking the V&A Waterfront marina, a source told City Press.

The spa, which has treated celebrities like David Beckham, offers a two-hour “urban retreat plus lunch” package for R2?695, among other treatments.

City Press spoke to two former Agang staff members who lost their homes and were forced to sell beds, TVs and washing machines on Gumtree to make ends meet.

“She’s not in touch with any of us. She refuses to take our calls. It’s impossible to get hold of her,” said a former member of the party’s senior leadership, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Meanwhile she’s living this wealthy life. It’s disgusting. Steve Biko would turn in his grave.”

Ramphele and Biko were lovers and had two children together.

Ramphele’s former bodyguard is owed R70?000. Financial dire straits forced the man, who did not want to be named, to give up his flat in the Cape Town suburb of Goodwood.

He also had to sell his bed and TV set and reneged on his young daughter’s maintenance payments.

When contacted this week, the bodyguard declined to elaborate, saying he wanted to put it all behind him and move on.

Ramphele’s personal assistant, Robyn-Anne Pollard, did not respond to several requests for comment.

Ramphele – a medical doctor, former University of Cape Town vice-chancellor and former managing director of the World Bank – founded Agang in February 2013 and announced her intention to challenge the ANC.

But it wasn’t smooth sailing. According to party insiders, Agang’s cash flow issues started in November that same year. They were compounded after Ramphele and DA leader Helen Zille’s brief political flirtation hit the rocks in February last year.

After Agang and the DA’s acrimonious split, funding – notably from Mary Slack, sister of diamond tycoon Nicky Oppenheimer, and businessman Nathan Kirsh – dried up.

Agang still had four months of campaigning to go before the May national elections.

“Senior management were last paid in February 2014. It started to really eat into my savings,” said a senior source.

“I said so to Ramphele. She said we should keep faith; that once we were in Parliament the money would come. She gave me her personal undertaking.”

The source said even though cash was tight during election campaigning, Ramphele did not cut costs.

“She only travelled business class, even when money was tight. We put her on an economy flight once, but she refused,” he claimed.

Ramphele was unhappy when Agang won only two seats in Parliament in the elections, and ditched the party in July. Agang was left with a trail of debt totalling millions.

Angry suppliers turned to the courts to recover their money. Ramphele, however, denied being personally­ ­liable to Agang’s creditors or for staff’s outstanding salaries.

At the time, Ramphele told City Press: “I resigned from Agang and I don’t owe money in my personal capacity. I have lost a lot of money in Agang. The money that’s owing is money owed by Agang. All political parties post the elections have huge debts. I have nothing to do with Agang.”

She smiled and posed for photos at the opening night of War Horse at the Artscape Theatre in December. She is a regular shopper at a supermarket in Sea Point, ramping trolleys filled with groceries up pavements.

But while Ramphele gets on with her life outside politics, Agang’s two MPs – deputy president Andries Tlouamma and chairperson Mike Tshishonga – are at each other’s throats.

The source of the tension? Money.

City Press is in possession of papers filed at the Western Cape High Court detailing the pair’s fight with each other about the payment for equipment for the party’s parliamentary office and staff salaries.

Tlouamma is fighting to have Tshishonga settle the debts, while Tshishonga retorts in court papers that he does not acknowledge Tlouamma as authorised to represent Agang.

The documents, dated September last year, list the unpaid salaries of six former workers at Agang’s Braamfontein, Johannesburg, office.

The money owed to former staff members ranges from R10?000 to R30?000 for the months of July and August.

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