Called to lead

From Baobab Mon Feb 18 2013, 13:53:31

THERE is something regal about Mamphela Ramphele. On Monday morning, in front of a clutch of microphones at the women's jail on Constitution Hill, she announced her intention to form a political party that will contest South Africa's elections in 2014. The reverence that Ms Ramphele attracts, her formidable intellect and her countless accomplishments make a political career if anything seem rather lowly.

Ms Ramphele, previously vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, made it plain (and not for the first time) what she thinks of the country's present leaders. "Corruption, nepotism, and patronage have become the hallmarks of the conduct of many in public service," she lamented. It is "appalling" that most young South Africans are not in work; "shameful" that a 30% pass mark for school leavers is deemed acceptable; "troubling" that ethnic or religious identity comes first for most of her compatriots (less than 10% will readily claim to be South African).

In such circumstances, said Ms Ramphele, she feels "called to lead". As a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, and the former partner of Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness movement, she has the credentials to take on the ruling ANC in a political fight. She has worked in senior positions in academia, business and at the World Bank. Many of the ingredients for a successful political career are there. Yet Ms Ramphele's foray into formal politics so far seems rather undercooked.

Her vehicle is not (or not yet) a party but rather a "political party platform". Its policies, its personnel and even its name are to be decided by a "consultative process". Ms Ramphele says she wants to reduce South Africa's political fragmentation. But a new political party might further split the anti-ANC vote. Asked whether she had considered joining the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, her response was: "I'm not a joiner". But if Ms Ramphele's new venture is to succeed, she must hope that others do not feel ...

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