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Ramphele: Bridge over troubled water

Businesswoman and academic Mamphela Ramphele certainly got South Africa’s attention.

Report by Daily Maverick

She coasted on the media hype about the imminent launch of a new political party and kept her cards close to her chest until her highly anticipated public briefing on Monday.

It was all well choreographed to maximise the theatre of the announcement.

The location was the historic Women’s Gaol at Constitution Hill and the scant detail about the event ensured mass media attendance — both local and international. Ramphele floated into the room flanked by a posse of strapping bodyguards and sat down on her own at the front of the room like a blushing debutante.

She was introduced by outspoken gender activist Nomboniso Gasa, who drummed up the anticipation further. And when Ramphele took to the podium to deliver her address, it was indeed a rousing performance.

She pressed all the right buttons, tapped into the mass discontent over government performance and reminisced about the hopes and dreams on which South Africa’s democracy was built.

“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 summed up her entire illustrious career in one sentence: “I have had to overcome the high barriers to opportunity confronting many black people, especially black rural women, to become a student activist, a medical doctor, a community development activist, a researcher, a university executive, a global public servant at the World Bank and now an active citizen in both the public and private sectors.”

And instead of throwing stones at the ruling party, Ramphele played the stateswoman by accepting responsibility for what has gone wrong.

“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.”

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