Brad Cibane
Brad Cibane

A letter to Mamphela Ramphele

I have a friend and she is one of those annoyingly smart people. She always says the right thing, knows the right thing and does the right thing. She has learnt to be very sure of her own opinion and nobody likes her. Not even me. What has this got to do with you? Nothing, I just wanted to share a story.

In South Africa there are two political parties: there is the ANC and the rest. If the ANC is Nkandla, then other parties are the cantankerous tuckshop caretaker under MaKhumalo’s employ. They spend all day complaining about the ANC yet they base their very existence on the ANC. Their sole task is to approve or disapprove of ANC policies and actions.

There are also two kinds of politicians: those criticising the ANC and those defending it. Ultimately it is all about the ANC. The rhetoric about the poor, about development and governance is just that … rhetoric. The people are only spectators and pawns in a political game, just spectators. This is where you come in.

A lot has been written about your “platform”. Most of the commentary is naysaying and pessimistic. Even those supposedly optimistic about your platform are ”cautiously optimistic”.

I on the other hand think you are just remarkable! You are an efficacious businesswoman, you have struggle credentials, you did amazing work with Steve Biko on the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), you’ve have held a high position at the World Bank, you were the principal of the best ranked university in SA. You are our very own Superwoman.

That said, your personal character cannot be the basis for a political party. Creating a political party means abandoning your activist’s costume for a harder, heavier, hotter, politician’s costume. More importantly, we can no longer afford political parties that are based on a single person’s legacy. We are through with demigods. Here is my appeal to you.

Firstly do not make the mistake of becoming a leader. South Africa does not need “leaders”, it needs “representatives”. Leaders want power and their mistakes are fast costing us our had-earned freedom. Representatives on the other hand have authority and they work with the people to build a better, stronger, progressive nation.

There is a gap and it is your niche. Politicians misinterpret the concept of “representative democracy”: representing the people. Government policy should never be determined by party membership. The recent to and fro between the state and society on the ”secrecy Bill” and the violent protest against a municipal merger are prime examples of the difference between leaders and representatives.

How do you represent a country of 50 million people? You must listen. Embrace truly the model of a mass movement. The people know how they want their country to be run and how they want their government to function. Give the ignored in society a voice. There are millions of them. Fill up community halls and stadia, but not to talk, just to listen. You have some experience from the BCM.

Secondly, actively avoid partisanship. The biggest mistake you can make is to join MaKhumalo’s spaza shop! The biggest mistake you can make is to join the clutter of inaudible voices hollering at the demigod employer.

AgangSA must not be based on ANC fault lines. Irrespective of the ANC’s embarrassing failures, it remains a hero to our people. Many people associate the ANC with liberation. They then disassociate the pluck and filth in Luthuli House from the ANC. The ANC is, in the eyes of the people, a sacred entity separate from its fallible leadership. When you take on the ANC, you are challenging not just the organisation, you are challenging the legacy of the liberation movement. Not even you are up to that task. Leave the critiquing to the DA, the media, Zapiro and the million other voices.

You have said that it is very difficult to criticise the government without referencing the ANC. This is true but you can transform criticism into identifiable problems. Here is an example, you can replace the phrase “the ANC has failed to deliver adequate housing to the poor” with the phrase “the people are homeless and destitute”, then offer a creative solution. Give the people what they need, appeal to their sense of self-preservation.

Lastly be frank in your approach to the question of race and empowerment. It is widely rumoured that your first attempt was to absorb and de-racialise the DA, to create a colourless party. A racially-neutral approach is indeed tempting but to avoid race entirely is dishonest and lazy.

When all social, political and economic trends are determined by the legacy of apartheid, we must ask the hard questions and give hard answers.

Frankly your “South African consciousness” approach is wrong. We cannot begin with South African consciousness until the black consciousness project is complete. To abandon black consciousness means accepting social, political and economic trends that are skewed unfairly in favour of whites. We can address the social and psychological legacy without upsetting national unity.

Your platform-soon-to-be-a-political party offers hope. It offers new opportunities and fresh beginnings. Do not play with the country’s emotions by making the mistakes of those who have gone before you.

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  • The weakness of the ANC
  • Part 6 of 6: Speeches
  • Part 5 of 6: Plenary
  • Part 4 of 6: Caucus
    • Juju Esq.

      Thanks Brad. A very good read and excellent food for thought.

    • Juju Esq.

      I must say I disagree with this:

      “Frankly your “South African consciousness” approach is wrong. We cannot begin with South African consciousness until the black consciousness project is complete. To abandon black consciousness means accepting social, political and economic trends that are skewed unfairly in favour of whites….”


      “South African consciousness” must address the social, political and economic trends that are skewed unfairly against whoever is currently disadvantaged.

    • Tofolux

      @Brad, why is it that some who are located in the middle-class seem to be so desperate for hero’s and heroines? Not so long ago, we had some analyst on this very forum decrying how his hero fell from grace this despite the fact that this hero shot his girlfriend four times. In all this desperation though, it is quite telling as whom you are identifying and calling upon to be your hero’s. Mamphele unfortunately for me is nothing but a media construct. The university you mention can be confused with a facility that is located in a city in Brussels or somewhere on the European continent. SA’ns are hard to find at this university, Brad. Secondly, in all these years, what impact has she had, other than being Steve Biko’s girlfriend? The obvious and critical question that remains unanswered is, WHERE IS BCM and why hasnt she remained/revived this movement to launch/re-launch her political career? Has she abandoned their ideals and in fact, when did this abandonment happen? The answer to the question would be quite telling because as we all know she was a major stumble block to transformation when she occupied a very high position in a certain mining company. Also, dont you have a sense of patronising opportunism here?

    • george orwell

      I agree here that Ramphele should not play with the country’s emotions.

      She needs to dig deep into the grassroots thoughts and human requirements of the 99% and refrain from hob-nobbing with the 1%, viz. wealthy ‘diaspora South Africans’ in Washington and London.

      At the risk of being a bore, I will repeat what I said beneath your previous column, Brad. It’s a liability that Ramphele is both a former trustee of the US Rockefeller Foundation and now delivers statements from the Ford Foundation offices.

      American NGOs and Foundations tend to de-fang the true left, by pumping establishment dollar$ into controlling the opposition in tweedledee-tweedledum politics.

      See this excellent article – “Foundations and American Power”:

      See also Inderjeet Parmar’s book “Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power” (Columbia University Press, 2012).

      These foundations, with whom Ramphele dallies (perhaps naively), promote technocratic casino capitalist economics while FAILING to eradicate poverty, Parmar argues persuasively.

      With the Rockerfeller and Ford Foundation as friends, can Ramphele really say, during this new Scramble for Africa, that she is going to champion the poor as much as she’ll protect US behemoth Walmart’s ‘right’ to send profits from previously colonised Africa back to the heart of the new Empire,…

    • Enough Said

      I went out two hours ago and purchased the recently launched book “The Great African Society; A Plan for a Nation Gone Astray” by Hlumelo Biko, son of Mamphele Ramphele and Steve Biko. Can’t wait to read it.

    • Hameeda

      I am hopefully optimistic about Mamphela for the same reasons, although I am weary that she is not a saviour but maybe a saving grace.

    • Petru Viljoen

      Halleluja! Now there is somebody a person like me can actually vote for. I considered, for the first time since 1994 to withold my vote since Patricia de Lille sold out to the DA – (from PAC to ANC to DA)! No one can take that seriously. Mamphela Ramphela, diminutive as she is, is a lot bigger in intelligence, integrity and responsibility than the current so called leaders. The DA has any old voter as its members, even the old time racists, just so they can have a vote or two at the end of any election. I’m glad and grateful there’s a new voice to listen to. With something to say. As a medical person, she should be able to listen and act correctly. I hope she gets 9% of the vote in next year’s national elections.

    • Skerminkel

      I like most of what I read, therefore some hopefully constructive criticism:
      We need leaders and representatives. Leaders are members of a society who does makes a positive contribution the society and whose example can be followed by others. A leader therefore does not need a high rank or formal position.
      The problem with many of our leaders and representatives are that they see themselves and rulers. Rulers see the society as their servants and property. Any benefit to the society from the actions of the ruler is just coincidental. The motivation behind a ruler’s actions are his/her own well being.

    • Leigh Johnson

      Mr. Cibane,

      A brilliant editorial, elegantly written. I hope she takes your advice. South Africa does indeed need representatives and not leaders. Representatives who work with citizens. We have potential, we have yet to even begin to realize it. Perhaps you could become a political advisor to Ramphela Mamphele. We need your insight.

    • Momma Cyndi

      In my white mind, Biko was trying to say ‘forget the white man and be who you are and unapologetic about who you are’. I have to agree, that is the way to go in politics too. Forget the ANC and be who you are and be unapologetic about who you are.

      My number one problem with the DA is that they don’t contest elections on what they CAN do, they harp on about what the ANC isn’t doing. Anyone with two eyes and a brain can see what they aren’t doing. It is solutions we want, not something that sounds like an ex-wife

    • Gareth V

      I saw this somewhere: “I hate you, because I’m lazy”.
      Have we South Africans become lazy amid so much hatred?

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @George Orwell, the ANC has been receiving money from these same compainies that you are accusing DR Ramphele of receiving money from. You talk of sitting on the board of various companies, that doesn’t mean nothing if you don’t have voting power.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @George Orwell, only the Africans can change Africa by rolling up their sleeves and creating businesses like the Asians are doing. The companies in the US exist to make profit and Africa has to do the same thing instead of whinning all the time. Most of the money that leaves Africa is money stolen by their leaders and not the US companies.

    • John

      Good advice! Keep in mind. Biggest fault is she must practice democracy. The ANC have not a clue of its meaning and yet still misuse it!

    • xolanik

      Great piece Brad, out of all articles i’ve read on the subject, I enjoyed this the most.

      Unfortunately, I doubt Mamphela will be offering what you have requested in your letter – i have a feeling she’s just another tuck shop in the homestead. But let’s see what she comes up with from the platform – but her utterances thus far leave me with a bitter taste.

    • Mok

      My 18 year old bornfree son asked me “hmm so what did Mamphele have to say for herself….?”. I started to waffle about education system worsening bluh bluh bluh but finallly had to admit….”i don’t know”…grandstanding maybe? A pity. Agreed with Tofolux why doesn’t she revive the consciousness movement. Great article.

    • http://http// Paul Whelan

      Anyone interested in what Dr Ramphele is up to might find this of interest:

    • Holger Behrens

      Thanks Brad, for a stimulating read.

      I like your progression from Ruler (ANC & NATs :) ), to Leader, to Representative. I like the idea of a public servant – but I guess I am now in the class of smoking happyweed. or potty…

      Regardless you make some good points, and so do the commentators.

      In the face of our state of the nation – which not so rosy despite the assuring noises of Gordham and Zuma – we need action in the right direction. I don’t care how, who or what as long as we can start turning the ship – it is after all our only one.

    • Thapelo

      I welcome your analysis brad. You are frank in your analysis since i think you have nothing to gain or loose. I appreciate that your analysis that building a political party for the sole reason of opposing the ANC is a waste of space. A party that is required is the one that is not a break away from the anc or based on opposing anc. We need a party whose sole purpose is to construct a South Africa we will be proud of.

      To add this piece of information which will prove helpful to those who do not this woman, they should take time to read her autobiography to get a glimpse of who she is

    • Graham

      I am intrigued by her new movement, but will first wait to see who she attracts to her party and the policies she adopts.

      “To abandon black consciousness means accepting social, political and economic trends that are skewed unfairly in favour of whites”.
      Um, no, they are skewed towards those with money. Not a race group.

    • http://http// Paul Whelan

      @Thapelo – It is impossible to start, let alone build a party that is not in opposition to the ANC because the ANC is the party in power. This will be the case whether or not the new party is a split or breakaway.

      Even if a party claimed not to intend opposition at first, it will be driven to it because the ANC itself will oppose the newcomer. The signs of both happening were there from the moment Dr Ramphele stated her intentions.

    • Sinethemba

      Well written!! It is important to warn these “Leaders” not to make the mistakes of those who came before them.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Paul, we should all wait and see what direction Agang will go before making judgement. If this new party takes 15% of the ANC votes the ANC will be in trouble.

    • JitsZA

      Black consciousness is about a state of mind not a colour/race
      A south African consciousness would be the same thing with a different name,
      An exceptionally well written blog. I will vote for you.