Conversation with Mamphela Ramphele
||28 October 2012 07:00
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
Bongani Bingwa (Carte Blanche presenter): "'Mabu a u tswitswe! The soil has been stolen - these are words uttered in the darkest hours when a nation has its back against the wall and is fighting the fight of their lives."
Dr Mamphela Ramphele: "When you were in a village and you heard someone standing at the top of the hill say, 'Mabu a u tswitswe!' you pick up your spear, your axe, because you are being clearly called to action."
Activist, academic, businesswoman, icon... Dr Mamphela Ramphele's call to action has taken form in her new book 'Conversations with my Sons and Daughters'.
Dr Ramphele: "At 64 I am mobilising citizens and saying, 'We don't have to keep it this way; we can make our country great again.'"
She's angry at the breakdown of post-apartheid South Africa - from education to health care to rampant crime and insecurity. In her words,' it's a failure of leadership'.
Dr Ramphele: "The most important one is the failure to transform apartheid education into an education of the 21st Century and we do so, having devoted the largest slice of government budget to education."
Bongani: "We are ranked as one of the worst nations - even now, Zimbabwe has a better education system than South Africa."
Dr Ramphele: "The problems we have in our education system are problems of leadership, problems of the failure to hold public officials, teachers and parents accountable. The humanity of our children is being destroyed by you and I being acquiescent to a government that is destroying the future of our country."
Bongani: "Of course your critics will argue that really your book is just a polemic against the ANC?"
Dr Ramphele: "I wish it was, because then you could throw it into the dustbin. Unfortunately, it is backed up by evidence which is not collected by me - some of it from the government itself! The only reason why I am, at the age of 64, running around like a headless chicken is because I want to get fellow citizens to wake up."
This is a far cry from the jubilation and promise of 1994. For Mamphela, a founding member of the Black Consciousness movement, it's the demise of a dream. Born in rural Limpopo, she studied medicine at the only university to accept "black" women - the University of Natal.
Dr Ramphele: "I was very politically naïve. I was growing up in a rural area - there's no political education, there's no newspaper, there is no radio, there is no TV at that time... It's only when I got to medical school I then got energised; I never stopped since then."
It was at this time she met Steve Biko.
Bongani: "Tell me about meeting this man. You have described him as the 'love of your life'."
Dr Ramphele: "The laugh, and the absolute joy and passion in his eyes. He had a magnetic personality. When I met him the first time I was just interested in him as a person because I am very curious about people, and before I knew it I got hooked."
In 1977 Mamphela was banished by the apartheid government to a small village near Tzaneen. It was at this time Biko was murdered while in police custody. Mamphela was four months pregnant with his child.
Dr Ramphele: "Devastating... it took me a long time to get used to it - not used to, but to accept it and get to live with it, because that is what it is. It still feels like yesterday."
Bongani: "What did an event like that do? I mean, here was somebody who was not only your romantic partner, but in a sense your political partner?"
Dr Ramphele: "You go through a process of disbelief, anger, despair, self-pity, and then you get up and say: 'You know what? I have an even stronger reason to fight'. So it actually... in a funny way, it liberated me to be completely fearless."
She went on to become not only the first "black" Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, but the first woman. She spent four years as the managing director of the World Bank in Washington. Her star soared, but not her beloved country's.
Bongani :"If one looks back to the things that people like Nelson Mandela were saying in 1994... we were warned we could go down this path. Why did we fall into the same trap?"
Dr Ramphele: "No liberation movement has ever successfully transformed itself into an effective democratic governing party. So, under Mandela, there was hope that we could buck the trend. Clearly we have failed to buck the trend because we did not take into consideration the lessons from the rest of the continent and the lessons from Latin America and other parts of the world."
Bongani: "What were those lessons?"
Dr Ramphele: "In a democracy the primary loyalty is to the country and to the Constitution; in a liberation movement, the primary loyalty is to the party. So there is intolerance of different viewpoints, there is intolerance for criticism. When President Zuma talks about people who disagree with him as 'enemy agents', that's very dangerous. That's liberation movement language."
The wave of strikes and mass action in recent months, for Mamphela, are systemic of subjects who don't have rights, not the citizens they should be in a democracy.
Dr Ramphele: "Violence is the language of powerlessness. If you are poor and desperate, you have this one chance to be heard. It's very easy to point fingers at people who are desperate and say, 'Look at them, they deserve to be shot.'"
As desperate as the Goldfields miners, with the new "black" economic empowerment deal, brokered by convicted fraudster Gayton McKenzie and engineered to benefit a handful of the elite. Ramphele is chairman of the Goldfields Board.
Bongani: "The Goldfields deal... I mean, that BEE deal is questionable by many standards?"
Dr Ramphele: "I am not part of the BEE deal of Goldfields..."
Bongani: "As chairman of..."
Dr Ramphele: "Let me explain. I am an independent non-executive chair of Goldfields. The BEE deal that Goldfields did preceded me."
Bongani: "That BEE deal is exactly the kind of thing you have spoken out so vocally against."
Dr Ramphele: "Absolutely! It's also true that Goldfields still has migrant labour hostels and I have spoke out against that. The point of the matter is that we are in a transition period. In fact, as a condition of my taking the chair, I insisted that Goldfields would have to have short, medium, and long term transformation plans which are radically different from what I inherited as chair."
Bongani: "But, with respect, part of the labour issues that have arisen come from the fact that none of those things are translating [into] realities. When this BEE deal, for instance, was announced, we were told 47 000 workers would be brought in as part share owners. When you speak to those workers, they are askance because none of the information has trickled down to them."
Dr Ramphele: "Okay, let's get the record straight. The problem we also have is the quality of the relationship between the workers on the factory floor or mining shaft and their representatives, right? That one of the problems is that workers feel that NUM is not representing them properly."
Bongani: "What you have just described is similar to how Lonmin might have explained what preceded the Marikana tragedy; it's exactly that kind of thing where there is a dissonance between what the workers are told, the promises that are made, and you get these few beneficiaries who are these well connected individuals who have ostensibly no mining expertise or experience but are the biggest beneficiaries of this process."
Dr Ramphele: "We have to say: how does one get transformation to happen? I believe that my contribution to the mining industry, first as non executive of Amro - again, I am not an equity holder - and now as the chair of Goldfields, is to try and help an industry which is fundamental to the economy of South Africa to rise up to its responsibilities. Good things, in my view, about the current crisis, is that never waste a crisis. My lone voice of trying to get pace on the changes in the industry now is backed up by the crisis."
A voice never more needed as the country lurches from crisis to crisis with all eyes on December.
Bongani: "When you look ahead then to Mangaung, what do you see in your crystal ball?"
Dr Ramphele: "You know what I am least interested in what's going to come out of Mangaung because it's not going to make a single difference. The change we need has to be a political cultural change. None of the leaders who are contested for power has that in mind."
Bongani: "Why not nail your colours to the mast and join the political process?"
Dr Ramphele: "I am politically active, and I think the most important political actor is the citizen. By mobilising citizens I am actually, I think, doing much more work than the people there sitting with their card to vote in 2014."
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.