Giving South Africa a Push- by Eleanor Clift
Explaining why she has founded a new political party in South Africa to challenge the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele said: “A woman is raped every 34 seconds in South Africa, including my granddaughter. Every day children go to school and there are no textbooks, and the teachers are absent.”
The 22 years since the revolution brought Mandela to power in 1994 have been a betrayal of the promise that she and her longtime partner, Steve Biko, fought for. Ramphele uses the word “betrayal” a lot, and she has a complicated relationship with Mandela, the man whose party she seeks to displace in elections next year.
When interviewer Charlie Rose read what Mandela said about her, “She can tear you into pieces when you want her advice,” Ramphele laughed, saying, “Mr. Mandela is a father figure to me, and like all fathers he does use hyperbole.” She says the goal of her party, “Agang”—which means “Let’s build”—is not to tear down the well-deserved reputation of Mandela but “to stop the betrayal of his legacy.”
Her late partner’s legacy is also at risk, she said. Biko died at age 29 in 1977. They had two children together. The eldest is also dead, she said, a casualty of a poor health system. The other, a son, is now 35 and a businessman “who is mobilizing his age group to make sure they secure the promise that his father fought and died for.”
A successful businesswoman and a trained physician, Ramphele is accustomed to succeeding even in a culture where women are marginalized. Still, the odds are long that she will succeed in winning the presidency. For all its problems, the ANC remains very good at winning elections. But the 65-year-old Ramphele is undaunted. She believes that if he could, Mandela would get back in the trenches and “help create a future that would make Mr. Mandela proud.”