Research and Policy Brief: Mamphela Ramphele - 22nd May 2013.

The launch of the ‘political party platform’ Agang in February 2012 has shifted Dr Mamphela Ramphele from being a commentator on South African politics to being an active participant in the months leading up to the national election in 2014. This article draws together some of Dr Ramphele’s views on issues affecting South Africa and Africa.


Mamphela Ramphele has held many positions, as a student activist, community development worker, doctor, academic, author, managing director, chairperson and now founder of a new political platform in South Africa. Dr Ramphele holds medical and commerce degrees, and a doctorate.

Dr Rampele was born in Bochum, Pietersburg (now Polokwane, Limpopo), in December 1947. She attended medical school at the University of Natal and joined the South African Students’ Association (Saso). This is where she co-founded the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) with Steve Biko.

In April 1977, after a period of detention without trial, Dr Ramphele was banned and banished to internal exile in Lenyenye in the district of Tzaneen (Northern Transvaal, now Limpopo). At the time of her banning order Dr Ramphele was medical superintendent of Zanempilo Community Health Centre, a clinic she had founded in King William’s Town (Ciskei, now Eastern Cape) in 1975. Her banning conditions prohibited her from leaving the magisterial district of Tzaneen or attending any gatherings without permission, being quoted in the Media, or entering an educational institution. During her banishment, Dr Ramphele opened up the Ithuseng Community Health Centre as well as a library, bursary fund, literacy programme, and other initiatives in the rural community. Her banning order was lifted in 1983. Between 1984 and 1988, she worked at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Dr Ramphele went on to join the Department of Social Anthropology at UCT as a research officer. In 1991 she was appointed as a deputy vice-chancellor. In 1992 Dr Ramphele became a non-executive director at Anglo American. She succeeded Dr Stuart Saunders as vice-chancellor of UCT in 1996. After four years there, she moved to the World Bank as one of four managing directors. In 2005 Dr Ramphele launched Circle Capital, an investment firm. Dr Ramphele has also held many trusteeships and directorships including at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

In February 2013, Dr Ramphele launched Agang (meaning build in Tswana), a political party platform that has ambitions to form a new party to contest the national election in 2014. Agang has said it hopes to achieve this through engaging ordinary South Africans and encouraging them to be active citizens and rebuild the country in order to achieve the ‘South African dream’.



On the economy

‘A measure of realism is necessary to temper the aspiration of South Africans who might believe redistribution would make them wealthy overnight’ – speaking on redistribution and nationalisation in the Financial Mail, 12 June 1992.

‘Yes, we need to now deal with the fundamental restructuring of the economy. We need to look at why our economic system is excluding people. Or what it is that makes it less competitive. What can we do to make it more production-focused, rather than consumption-focused? In that kind of environment, you will be creating more benefits than the narrow affirmative action and BEE [black economic empowerment], which are trapping us in the same racial categories that we wanted to put behind us’ [City Press 24 February 2013].

‘There is no possibility of human development really reaching its full potential within the migrant labour hostels… For too long they [the mining industry] have hidden behind the skirts of the Government, saying that we can’t do this or that because the Government won’t allow it. They have an obligation to be part of the solution to the problems that have been accumulating over the last 300 years with, in some cases, their active involvement, in other cases acquiescence because it was the most comfortable thing to do’ [Optima November 1992].

‘The mining sector’s business model based on reliance on the migrant labour system and large numbers of low-cost, low-skilled labour is unsustainable. The mining and agricultural industries have to migrate to a business model that invests in the skills of its workers, uses innovative technologies to remain competitive, and creates00 new types of jobs and opportunities for all. Another important test for our country is how to improve the skills of the rapidly increasing pool of unskilled and semi-skilled labour to give them jobs in an economy that is dominated by the services sector. We have to become much more focused on productivity and competitiveness in our areas of strength and become a desirable investment destination and supplier of choice internationally’ - speaking at the Agang launch on 18 February 2013.

 On education

‘The third deception is the pretence that even a modest improvement in pass rates is a result of what the government does! Is our self-belief as a nation so low that we simply accept this kind of deception, and our belief in our children so low that we’re happy to consign them to the fast-growing pool of NEETs (not in education, employment or training) who are literally eking out a livelihood from the dustbins of our nation or from lives of crime? These are young people whose dreams have been shattered by an education and training system that has betrayed the ideals of our freedom’ – delivering the 6th Solomon Mahlangu memorial lecture, 22 March 2012.

‘There was a great razzmatazz about the ‘historic’ 70.2% [pass rate], but this performance was deceptive—less than 500,000 people showed up to write their matric exams; [and] 539,102 students [who were in grade 1, 12 years prior] disappeared from the system. The Department of Education must tell us what happened to those children’ [Mail & Guardian 23 March 2012].

 On democracy and leadership

‘Liberation politics…is not an adequate preparation for democratic governance. An active process of institutional cultural change is called for to transform former liberation movements into political parties that are suited to serve a modern democratic state’ [The Star 18 April 2001].

‘The problem for the ANC is, in part, inherited liberation-era values, including a military culture more authoritarian than democratic, that recognise loyalty to the party first and foremost, and don’t set much store by tolerance of other points of view. Democracy and the common good are not well-served by such approaches’ [The Star 18 April 2001].

‘Intolerance of criticism should not be allowed to silence critics, even if the price of speaking up may be high. The long-term cost of silence is much higher. The tendency to tolerate mistakes and mismanagement in the early stages of transition to democracy often turns into passivity and silence in the face of abuses of power in the long run’ [The Star 18 April 2001].

‘My dream of South Africa 20 years from now is of: a participatory democracy that gives weight to all its citizens; a prosperous knowledge-based economy; a more equitable society that has redressed apartheid’s structural socio-economic inequalities; a good neighbour in southern Africa and a good citizen of the continent; a champion of an Africa that is dynamic and respected in the global community’ – writing in Business Report, 25 April 2003.

‘Our rallying cry during the struggle for freedom was for the people to govern, yet the system of choosing members of parliament from lists drawn up by political parties gives disproportionate power to party bosses at the expense of ordinary citizens. We should be able to vote for the person in our own area we want to represent us in Parliament, so we can hold them accountable for the electoral promises they make’ – speaking at the Agang launch on 18 February 2013.

‘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... 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.... Corruption, nepotism and patronage have become the hallmarks of the conduct of many in public service’ - speaking at the Agang launch on 18 February 2013.

‘People in poor communities say they are afraid of losing their social grants if they stand up against the governing party. Leading professionals and business people are afraid to speak their minds. We’ve seen how some of the leaders of banks have been castigated for critical comments in their annual reports. We have also seen how business leaders have been forced to retract critical adverts from school children after being accused of undermining the Government. Central to this fear so many express is the extent to which the governing party has successfully conflated the person of the president, the governing party, the Government, and the state. As a result, poor people accept the notion that social grants are the gift of the ruling party rather than being entitlements to them’ - addressing University of Witwatersrand students and academics on 25 April 2013.

‘The most outrageous examples [of corruption] are a private palace costing more than R200 million for President Zuma at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal; irregular leases for police buildings; and civil servants/or their families doing business with government departments who pay them a salary. The Government itself has acknowledged that 8 000 public servants in the Eastern Cape have been doing business with the health department, making it no surprise that the health-care system in the province has collapsed’ - addressing University of Witwatersrand students and academics on 25 April 2013.

 On race

‘Affirmative action appointments that have ignored the length of time it takes to develop intellectual capital have put victims of the legacy of racism and sexism in positions beyond their level of competence, sometimes with unfortunate results’ [The Star 18 April 2001].

‘It is likely to become more and more difficult for white South Africans to justify demanding their rights as citizens without being seen to be willing to participate in civic duties beyond the minimalist liberal approach to citizenship’ [The Star 18 April 2001].

‘Many white people feel alienated from the country of their birth because of guilt, anger, and resentment about a past they feel they could not have influenced otherwise. They feel that they are unfairly targeted by a transformation focus that makes them feel unwanted. They too need healing circles, to transform themselves from subjects and victims of the past, to become active citizens linking hands with fellow citizens to build the country of our dreams’ – delivering the 6th Solomon Mahlangu memorial lecture, 22 March 2012.

On other matters

‘I take a very dim view of anybody labelling things as African or un-African, European or un-European. It’s a dangerous generalisation because the fact that people didn’t admit to homosexuality does not mean it didn’t exist’ – responding to whether homosexuality is un-African in WIP/New Era, September 1992.

‘It is advantageous for staff, even a maths professor, to speak an African language. It makes teaching easier and improves empathy between staff that is largely white and a student body that is increasingly black. For graduates it is imperative that he or she be able to communicate with the society at large. Imagine a medical student in England graduating without being able to speak a word of English when most of his patients will be English speakers: it’s ridiculous’ – speaking on education and language in Tribute, December 1995.

‘It is too late for the Government to rely on health education and to await the possible development of a vaccine. The current government position is nothing short of irresponsibility for which history will judge it severely’ – speaking on the Government’s response to HIV/AIDS at a Wits graduation ceremony, 1 December 1999.

‘The most serious flaw in our foreign policy stances is our failure to consistently align our policies with the human rights principles of our Constitution. We have taken positions in the multilateral arena in recent years on vexed issues such as Zimbabwe, Darfur and Myanmar that are at variance with our human rights principles. South Africa’s global standing has also been diminished by the surrender of our country’s national sovereignty to appease foreign powers such as China, as the case of the Dalai Lama’s unsuccessful visa application to visit our shores showed. Moreover, South Africa’s international influence has been undercut by a foreign policy that has failed to define a coherent strategy for our country’s external engagements’ - delivering the 6th Solomon Mahlangu memorial lecture, 22 March 2012.

 On Africa

‘The essential objective is for African nations to leverage their own destiny and build capacity for themselves…The whole point of structural adjustment is to enable government to be free to fight poverty and create sustainable partnerships… Yet if people are to be able to genuinely take ownership, as structural adjustment is a phenomenon occurring all the time in most countries, then there has to be good governance, legal and judicial systems and sound education in addition to opportunities being extended to both urban and rural populations’ – in her first interview after her appointment to the World bank in Business Report, 11 March 2001.

‘One of the reasons why Africa is lagging the rest of the world is that we have not created a climate for private-sector involvement. The private entrepreneurs are out there. What we need is to identify them, support them and strengthen them’ [Financial Mail 4 March 2005].


- Boitumelo Sethlatswe