William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Ramphele poised to plunge into turbulent waters

Will she, or won’t she take the plunge? Feverish interest has followed on speculation that Mamphela Ramphele is set to launch a new political party. The enthusiasm is understandable, although she remains non-committal, but in reality the odds are stacked against her.

There is no doubt that Ramphele has impeccable credentials. During the darkest years of apartheid she helped found the Black Consciousness movement, along with her iconic partner, Steve Biko, who was murdered by the state. She is a medical doctor; a community activist; an academic; a former World Bank director; a business leader and finally, nurses a palpably sincere concern over South Africa’s moral and political decline. Ramphele ticks all the boxes.

But after decades of basking in the respect of her peers, one must wonder whether she has a stomach for the abuse that she will encounter setting up in opposition to the African National Congress on a terrain they believe they own by divine right. Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko can brief her about the vitriolic levels of sexism and racism that she will have to endure.

Ramphele has been remote from the bruising hurly-burly of everyday politics for years. These are murky and turbulent waters. International regard and a luminous past don’t mean much when it comes to the close-quarter stabbing and slashing that is necessary to build a viable political movement. It is unlikely, too, that she has much of a profile among the volatile black youth constituency that has grown to feral maturity since the disciplined activism of her youth.

Also, although small parties are favoured by SA’s proportional representation electoral system, they have not fared particularly well. Since 1994, the trend has been towards a two-party consolidation, with the DA and the ANC cannibalising the rest.

There can be no such thing as a true merger between vastly unequal entities. It is fear of being swallowed whole by the now numerically dominant DA, which is what happened to the Independent Democrats, that deters the smaller parties from merging, or at least forming an electoral front to oppose the ANC.

Despite these caveats, one hopes Ramphele takes the plunge. Here at last is someone who will resonate with the ANC’s captive black middle class, which although alienated by the corruption, the incompetence and sometimes the sheer farce of President Jacob Zuma’s administration, has largely baulked at joining the DA, because of its roots in white liberalism. That is why it is pointless at this stage for Ramphele to disappear into the DA.

While there may well be a point in SA’s political future when a combined opposition can be, as DA leader Helen Zille argues, greater than the sum of its parts, that moment has not yet dawned. Contrary to David Lloyd George’s World War II advice regarding the futility of trying to cross a chasm in two small jumps, at this moment — as SA confronts its own yawning chasm — a staging post is strategically necessary.

For the moment, smaller opposition parties provide voters with stepping stones in a voter’s journey out of an ANC that increasingly depends on the emotional hold of its liberation history, rather than its present performance, to maintain its hold on power. A party headed by Ramphele would have that requisite emotional resonance; a party headed by Zille, as she herself recognises, unfortunately doesn’t.

Consequently, there is enormous scope for a left-of-centre, charismatically led party that can talk to alienated eligible voters of all hues, not only to those alienated from the ANC. Public enthusiasm for democracy, as measured in voter registration and voter turn-out, is diminishing. That disillusionment can also be tracked by those withholding their vote from the ANC: while 58% of registered voters turned out for the ANC in the 1999 election, that was down to barely 50% in 2009.

These are potentially fertile fields for a new political party.

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    • The Naked Worker

      If a left wing party with strong competent ethical leadership sprang up there could just be an avalanche of support. There are many political orphans out there.

    • Lelane

      “Lindiwe Mazibuko can brief her about the vitriolic levels of sexism and racism that she will have to endure.” There is more to it than this, and it is more fundamental. SA’s political culture is one of intolerance, majoritarianism, and unquestionable and divine right to rule. The whole concept of multiparty democracy is not mature, and is paid lip service by the ruling elite. In practice, the risk Ramphele runs is simply that the governing elite cannot stomach any thought of a free contest of ideas. The inane responses that will follow from some of their propagandists will prove this.

    • Mark_DE

      Excellent piece. I only fear she might split the opposition further, as I can imagine unhappy DA voters, black or white, to move over to her.

      That would be a net loss, I’d say. It might be offset by the middle class ANC voters you are mentioning, but that remains a big if.

      In general, incorruptible intellectuals entering politics either fail, or lose the incorruptibility. I am thinking of a Johnson-Sirleaf.

      What to do, what to do.

    • Honkie Tonk


      The DA are not a working class party or a struggle party. They are more free market capitalist than the ANC. The DA is also home to many ex-National Party supporters.

      I think the ANC will hemorrhage as its traditional working class supporters see some potential light on the horizon that their interests may be addressed by a left of center party.

      A new strong left of center party will undermine the ANC’s stranglehold on power.

    • ams haven

      In this context one should not look at the individual opposition parties but rather as combined opposition to the ANC. The voters will then hopefully reduce the ANC’s majority to less than 50% which will be severe blow to them. It is but a starting point in a titanic battle still to come, but it is a battle that the ANC must not win.

    • Charlotte

      Sometimes fate dictates and strength of character directs.

      With the corruption and destruction of the country wrought by the ANC, if ever the time was right for Mamphela Ramphele to take her place and make a profound difference to the political scene, it is now.

      Helen Suzman stood alone for what she believed in and for what was right.
      She was also educated, a lady of integrity, dedicated and with enormous courage.
      Mamphela Ramphele has every one of these qualities. (Other women with this same courage and conviction — Helen Zille, Thuli Madonsela, Lindiwe Mazibuko to name but a few … )

      The word ‘grit’ appears in the word ‘integrity’

    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      There are similarities but also differences between the set of values one needs to oppose apartheid and those needed today to oppose the ANC’s hegemony.

      Dr Ramphele is on record as saying Africa is weak in terms of institutions, the most glaring shortfall in my view being the institution of formalised democratic opposition.

      If she agrees with that view, and I cannot know if she does, the key question Dr Ramphele cannot escape is whether it is more effective to join the DA to help build a more widely accepted opposition – the staging post you propose – or to form yet another small party that threatens to divide what oppositional vote there is at this time.


    • http://roryshort.blogspot.com/ Rory Short

      An ethical option is always needed no matter how small or ineffectual it might be when measured against REAL POLITIC. The glimmer of light it provides, in the midst of the murk, is what offers hope to people that there can be something else.

    • Just a Thought

      I think we do need to bridge the gap between the DA (opposition) and the Ruling Party and the good doctor good fit nicely in that void. we need to get away from a situation where the ANC refuse point blank to acknowledge the DA and in return the DA lambaste the ANC for everything they do.

      Perhaps she could be the catalyst for change and get Cosatu and thecommunits to get out of the incestuous bed they have made with the ANC and become the real watchdogs of society. And maybe Mamphele will be abel to create a system where the ruling party are applauded for the good work they do but also taken to task on the long long list of monumental mistakes, corruption and general incompetance.

      In a situation like that it really doesnt matter who is in charge.

    • ConCision

      Leading Ladies –
      With Backbone and Brain
      Not just in it for Financial Gain
      – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      Whether they are brown, white or black
      Whatever opposition party they back
      They’ll blacklist corrupt ANC attack
      And fight to bring democracy back

    • The Creator

      Ramphele is a right-wing corporate hack from the World Bank, who has been peddling white supremacist notions lately (if you read Laying Ghosts to Rest carefully, you’ll be horrified at how she’s bought into the apartheid mindset). She has no ideas of her own and her main constituency is the white business community.

      Basically, I think this is Patricia de Lille II — the idea being that blacks, like coloureds in the Cape, might be fooled into voting for an “independent” party which is essentially identical to the DA and secretly backed by it.

      It’s not likely to work out very well for her, but what the hell; she’ll pick up loads of cash from her financial backers and a parliamentary pension on top of it, so what does she care about honesty or integrity?

    • Honkie Tonk

      @The Creator

      And what were you smoking when you read Rampele’s book? Your interpretation differs from other reviews I have read.

    • ntozakhona

      There is a false canard spread that Ramphele was ever part of the ANC. AZAPO whose members were close to Steve Biko had denounced her as a former chain smoking adultress girlfriend of Steve Biko and nothing more. She has no struggle credentials whatsoever.

      She has never been part of the ANC and is known only to journalsts and the mainstream media. Terror Lekota was also once touted as an alternative and he had real credentials as a former Robben Islander and the voice of the UDF, he turned out to be a damp squib who spent most of his time losing court cases or whimpering in parliament.

      DA suuporters are desperate for an alternative but the real question the majority o voters want addressed is inequality and unemplyment and the ANC is the only movement with a plan, others are simply anti-ANC.

    • ntozakhona


      Again Thuli Madonsela is not a skivvy of the oppostion. She is an ANC memeber and a political deployee of the Zuma administration. Period.

    • Brent

      The Creator proves your point about the tsunami of rubbish that will be spilled over her if she enters politics and she has not even done anything yet – wait till she does.


    • http://http//paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      How can people who freely choose to follow a politician or vote for a political party be said to be ‘fooled’ into it? Is it not just another way of saying we do not agree with their choice?

    • Honkie Tonk

      So South Africa could see the launch of two new political party’s soon?

      1) Mamapele Rampele’s new party
      2) WASP – the newly formed Workers and Socialist Party

      Does Rampele have the grassroots support WASP have?

    • DeeGee

      @ ntozakhona: “AZAPO whose members were close to Steve Biko had denounced her as a former chain smoking adultress girlfriend of Steve Biko and nothing more. She has no struggle credentials whatsoever.”

      Another good reason not to smoke. It gives you absolutely no struggle credentials. I’ve learned something new today.

    • ntozakhona

      Paul Whelan

      I cannot agree more.

    • Enough Said

      Ramphele is a threat to the ANC alright, she also sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa.

      The movement she launched Citizens Movement for Social Change also looks quite cool: http://www.citizensmovement.org.za/

    • Charlotte

      @ ntozakhona .
      Your gems: ” -Thuli Madonsela …is an ANC member and a political deployee of the Zuma administration.”
      Then you say: “There is a false canard spread that Ramphele was ever part of the ANC’.
      What on earth are you smoking? Get some eye-glasses & stop trying to jump on the ANC brand-wagon with this crap, when you invariably fall on your head.

      I repeat what I wrote::
      “Helen Suzman stood alone for what she believed in and for what was right. She was also educated, a lady of integrity, dedicated and with enormous courage. Mamphela Ramphele has every one of these qualities. (Other women with the same courage and conviction — Helen Zille, Thuli Madonsela, Lindiwe Mazibuko to name but a few.)
      The word ‘grit’ appears in the word ‘integrity’.”
      In speaking of strength of character and integrity, dedication and courage -Thuli Madonsela was included.
      How do you come to your skewed conclustion this means she is ‘a skivvy of the oppostion’. Is that because all she ever seems to investigate is the outrageous corruption of the ANC?
      Actually, one wonders how she keeps up? Nkandla alone ……

      Furthermore, how do you know where she puts her cross when she votes? Did she show you?
      Or are your insults meant to demonstrate to Ramphele how dirty and dishonest ANC politicians and their contemptible cohorts can be?

      One already knows what to expect.

    • Juju Esq.

      When ANC supporters can get over the struggle credentials thingy they will have made major strides in political maturity.

      They are like the Americans, for example, did such and such a political leader fight in Vietnam or not? If he did, he deserves more blind loyalty even if he a a total disaster as a leader.

      Does this sound familiar to South Africans?

    • Just Njabs

      @Ntozakhona the struggle that you referring to is the struggle against oppression and we have won that one and the new struggle that we are faced with is the struggle against lack of direction and Leadership in the ruling party

      we need to move away from this mentality of selecting parties because they played a major role in struggle

      Ntozakhona can you show me any SA Politician who has these credentials ?

      An Honorary Doctorate at the International Institute of Social Studies
      An Honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Cambridge
      An Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Hunter College of the City
      An Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Tufts University
      An Honorary Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Natal.
      Legion of Honour, the highest decoration in France.
      Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Cape Town,
      Bachelor of Commerce in Administration from the University of South Africa
      Diplomas in Tropical Health & Hygiene and Public Health from the University of the Witwatersrand.
      former Managing Directors of the World Bank.

    • Truth be known

      Will Mamphele Rampele’s new party court the arms industry, nuclear industry, coal and fossil fuel industry, plus fracking industry, the Gupta’s, and the genetically modified (GM) seed industry etc like the ANC and DA?

    • ntozakhona


      Ag shame clutching at straws is what people with hopeless causes do when they fail again and again. I said Thuli is not a skivvy of the opposition, the context should at least tell you that.

      I am member of the ANC and know her to be one too, the law only prohibits her from being an official of a political party. Just google her history. However what must be clear even to the jaundiced eye is that she is a political appointee of the ANC govenment led by Jacob Zuma. The President has without fail implemented every single one of her reccomendations whilst Zille has threatned her with court action everytime she found against the DA.

      The civil service is corrupted by those with money and are able to hide their trails very well. The Selebi case demonstrates how they are able to work the system to escape prosecution. The DA remains the party of those with money.

    • ntozakhona

      JustNjabs and DeeJee

      ” Our struggle is inspired by the suffering of the African people”‘ said ANC leader and loyal member Nelson Mandela

      The ANC has chosen a peaceful and legal path of waging this struggle, when it reluctantly chose the armed struggle it was forced by brutal repression. The struggle to end the deliberately designed suffering of African people continues and assuption of government power is just another means of transforming our society into a non-racial, non-sexist prosperous one – a negation of colonialism authored inequality and poverty.

      None of the great leaders of the world had as much academic credentials as Ramphele, none! Those credentials do not neccessarily translate to great political leadership and ability. The pathetic Proffessor Themba Sono who has since disappeared from the political radar is a good SA example.

      Ramphele probably does not smoke anymore, the point is that she is just remebered as a seductive adultress in Black Conciousness circles.

    • Truth be known


      “Ramphele probably does not smoke anymore, the point is that she is just remebered as a seductive adultress in Black Conciousness circles.”

      And Jacob Zuma is a picture of chastity and fidelity??

    • Tofolux

      @Just Naps, the reality is that the 10 most educated human beings on this planet are relatively unknown and lo and behold, not one of them is a politician. In fact the most successful human beings on our planet are those without formal education. So this myth about education etc is just that, a myth. But in referencing this fact, can you show how this particular list of academic achievement has fundamentally assisted society at large? I am not talking about lending your name to projects so that particular liberals can have some credibility. I am talking about community projects that is so recognisable and that the significance is so huge, it will be felt by the poorest communities long after that person has passed. You see you cannot tell us that we must adopt a ”mentality” that is selfish and glory seeking. The reference of struggle credentials is important because not only does it evidence that you understand the ”people first” but that you understand the “people centred” concept. I am sure this explanation will take some time to understand, but yep, we are very patient and our mentality is quite advanced.

    • Honkie Tonk


      So the Boers that fought against the British in South Africa (First and Second Wars of Independence in late 19th century) have better struggle credentials than Mamphele Ramphele? They understand the “people centred” concept you speak of?

      You talk a lot of nonsense.

    • ntozakhona

      Truth be known

      Zuma has been honest about his life and he did not pretend to be western and behave African. We know and understand what informs his choices, he is an un African unashamed of he is. You are judged by your own standards and culture – even if it is adopted.

    • ntozakhona

      Hey Charlotte

      Did you see Thuli MADONSELA on eNCA saying she loves her job and that she is there to correct the mistakes of government with love? Or are you in so much denial that you refuse to see?

    • The Creator

      Paul Whelan, the point is that if you are only supplied with misleading information about a politician, and you don’t know that it is misleading, then you are being fooled.

      Upthread somebody remarks that since he has only read favourable reviews of Ramphele’s appalling book, he concludes that the book must be wonderful. But of course people give the book favourable reviews — they know that she is on message and on their side. (Actually it’s a compendium of cliches mingled with some truly odious opinions.)

      And this is part of the problem with South African politics — we don’t really know the truth about a lot of politicians. Remember when Zuma was being sold to us as a heroic freedom fighter and victim of smears and slanders? Lots of people believed all that rubbish. It’s often easier to believe rubbish than to find out the facts — especially when the lies are repeated over and over.

    • Charlotte

      What is it that I don’t see, ntozakhona ? – the ‘mistakes of the government’?
      i.e. the gross mismanagement, the misconduct, the corruption …?

      What’s not to see? –that which they will still try to keep hidden when the Protection of Information Bill slithers through? Nkandla …The Arms Deal? and Lord knows what else …
      This country lives daily with ‘the mistakes of the government’ We see and hear about them every day:- Education, Health, Employment, Law Enforcement, Crime, Housing, Transport, Immigration … what has not been desecrated?

      I wish I were in denial. I wish I didn’t have to see it.
      There is nothing the ANC have touched that hasn’t gone down the drain. … “Violent protests’ are tantamount to anarchy.
      3 SAN subs bought only a few years ago by the ANC for R70 billion, part of the infamous ‘arms deal’, are no longer operational. Were they ever?
      The ANC are not running the country. They are ruining it..

      Strong, dedicated, intelligent, honest,and efficient opposition, with people of integrity, courage and vision at the helm, is wanted, welcomed and applauded.

    • ntozakhona

      The Creator

      Who sold you Zuma as a freedom fighter and a victim of slander? I do not even remember you buying it, if it was ever sold to you. The mainstream media has always and still potrays Zuma as an ”odious” (that Botha associated word) individual who is incorrigibly corrupt and churns out conspiracy theories.

      The electorate does not believe the lies as the only proof provided are failed court cases, of course in a law governed society if you charge a person the prosecution may decline to prosecute or courts may dismiss due to lack of evidence, the electorate is intelligent enough to deduce the lack of evidence.

      It is a historical fact that Zuma is a heroic freedom fighter. My late father never ceased to tell me about how he led them in battles in Ingwavuma, the history the media has deprived you of. He made many of us feel at home in ANC camps as we went through military crush courses for underground operations.

      Of late I must thank him for saving me, my family and community from further AIDS related deaths and vigorously raising the unemployment and education issues. Like 66% of the voters I am not fooled but ” I know what I am doing”

    • ntozakhona


      The Creator, I have read many of your comments and I assume that unlike C and others, you are intelligent enough that I used you as a generic term, I am not being personal.

    • ntozakhona

      Corrigenda – intelligent enough to realise that

    • DeeGee

      It seems the definition of ‘struggle credentials’ never starts with ‘what was your contribution to the fight against Apartheid’, but rather ‘are you a member of the ANC’…. How cunning of the ANC to monopolise that one.

    • ntozakhona

      Honkie Tonkie

      The Boers who fought in the Anglo Boer War have struggle credentials in so far as they battled British oppression, they slumped into the verkeerde kant van die geskiedeness when they collaborated with the British to oppress Africans

      I get a sense thatyou wll agree that beingthe unsolicited die baasie to Africans was evil.

    • Charlotte

      ntozakhona , you are so busy nitpicking that you miss the point.
      Thuli Madonsela was included with women considered to have outstanding qualities.
      Like Mamphela Ramphele. They were not delineated according to which political party they belonged. That is what the ANC do: – favours, jobs and ‘future growth for business ‘ according to Zuma.
      Helen Suzman stood alone against the apartheid government of the time – on the side of the ANC. But then, the ANC of the time, was nothing like the Zumafied-ANC of today.
      And Zille and Ramphele, although on the same side of the river, are likely to be in different camps. Get it?

      As far as, I quote you ‘the mistakes of the ANC” are concerned: They say it is only a mistake after it has been done the second time.
      That’s the point. The ANC never learn from a mistake; they keep repeating it – and especially for their own profit and pocket.
      Another reason for the strongest possible opposition.