Assessing Dr. Ramphele’s Eye on the SA Presidency
Yesterday, I woke up to not so surprising but quite telling news.
The renowned South African anti-apartheid activist and Co-Founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, had declared her intentions to jump into South Africa’s elective politics.
Under her newly formed political platform; ‘Agang,’ which is Setswana for ‘Let’s build,’ she’s plotting to metamorphose it into a political party. That means that should she succeed, she will definitely run for a possible future South African Presidency in 2014. And what is telling about this is that she will have become the first black woman in South African to run for presidency since the country returned to democratic rule in 1994. To this, I shall return.
To me, this piece of news wasn’t that surprising at all. I encountered this great woman during a Leadership training at Mont Fluer- Western Cape around April 2012. She had been invited to facilitate a discussion on a topic; ‘Africa in a Competitive and Changing World.’ Mont Fluer, the venue for the famous Mont Fleur Scenarios, had been the place of choice for the ‘Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Programme’ run by the prestigious African Leadership Institute (see www.alinstitute.org). The venerable Desmond Tutu is its patron, and through it, he is building it as an experiment to build a new network of inspirational leaders around the continent, who are together committed to tackling their countries’ most stubborn problems. A living legend for many, Tutu acknowledges that from the economic turmoil in Europe, to the revolutions in the Arab world and to the presidential race in the US, it seems that everywhere leadership is in crisis. The training is often addressed by Africa’s top thought leaders. In the particular case of ‘Class 2012,’ the collection of facilitators included Dr. Ramphele.
By the close of her electrifying presentation, I had quickly detected, and quite correctly, that she was up to something very big in future. During her presentation that afternoon of April 25th, I asked her if she was plotting for a South African Presidency. She shyly answered me she was simply a subject on a discovery journey to becoming a ‘citizen’ and creating many more and that the appreciation of the concept of ‘citizen’ was the most critical issue underpinning South African leadership today.
Embedded in her ‘Citizens Movement for Social Change,’ a social movement currently focusing on promoting engaged citizenship and which I highly suspect has given birth to ‘Agang,’ is a drive bring change in the socially fractured South African society, place it on a forward moving journey to real ‘Citizens.’ She gave me a T-shirt with these very words inscribed at the back to take to my country Uganda and help analyse the connection between the rulers and the ruled and find out if the former weren’t actually ‘chiefs’ and the latter, ‘subjects’ instead of ‘citizens.’
I found this to have been a new ground in the African Leadership discourse. Everywhere on the continent, leaders who care about the conditions of their people, are fast running out. They are running out because majority of them treat and drag their citizens alongside their vision as if they were subjects and not shared participants of the very vision that is supposed to transform them. It is for this reason that Dr. Ramphele has severally published books focusing on social-economic issues in South Africa receiving numerous prestigious national and international awards, including honorary doctorates acknowledging her service to community and her leading role in raising development issues and spearheading projects for disadvantaged persons in South Africa and elsewhere in the world. In a sense, she has been defining a new ground in continental leadership discourse where African leadership needs to cultivate better and practical solutions using such rare values as service to the community, selflessness, courage, morality, being the best among equals, building followers-not subjects, caring, humility and vision.
Enabling Africans realize that they need to move from ‘subjects’ to ‘citizens,’ is a new ground. It is also an attempt to make citizens of African take charge of the affairs of the state.
I was glad she echoed this in her speech (see http://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/mamphela-ramphele-s-full-speech-1.1472163#.UScpRVprZXc), emphasizing that African leadership was about the ability to be responsive to the social economic needs of the people.
“Do you remember the dream we embraced to build ours into a great society – a prosperous constitutional democracy united in its diversity? Do you remember our commitment to promote human dignity (Ubuntu) and banish humiliation and disrespect of our apartheid past? Do you remember our vow to promote transparency and accountability in public life? Do you remember that we agreed that our democracy would be known for being responsive to the social and economic needs of all citizens? Do you remember?” she asked her audience.
It is easy to understand her problem with modern South Africa. On one hand, you a ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), fast disconnecting itself from the revolutionary tenets that it stood for, and the National Democratic Party (NDP) on the other hand busy propagating white privilege. In the middle ground is a huge population with no hope. Stories are being told that the only thing holding this loose thread is the shared respect South Africans are still holding for Nelson Mandela. Given the icon’s frail condition, everyone knows this is only temporary and is only cover for a time bomb waiting to explode. Societies like these then, need bridge builders.
“The country of our dreams has unfortunately faded for many of my fellow South Africans. The dream has faded for my sisters and brothers in rural areas who live under the threat of being again made subjects of traditional chiefs and other unelected traditional leaders through proposed acts of our own Parliament. The dream has faded for the many living in poverty and destitution in our increasingly unequal society. And perhaps worst of all, my generation has to confess to the young people of our country: we have failed you. We have failed to build for you an education and training system to prepare you for life in the 21st century. As a result the dream has faded for young people in both urban and rural areas,” Ramphele rightly admits.
And therein lies the subject I left hanging earlier; ‘The Era of the African Woman President.’ Studies show women are most likely less corrupt than men. The typical African woman literary runs the family, prepares the food and feeds the kids while the husband is away busy. Because they spend most the time with us, they understand issues of selflessness, service and community engagement much better than the men. Renowned world leaders have acknowledged their moms and wives’ strong influence on their leadership careers. They rarely mention their dads. If Africa is being messed up by the men, let’s try women and see! Ask the Malwaians and the Liberians for tips.