Mamphela Ramphele, do the right thing: pay

2014-09-07 15:00

A letter to Mamphela Ramphele

Dear Ma’am,

You have had a laugh at my calling you “Ma’am”, but it just feels right to me. I’ve always held you in the highest regard, a true role model for a generation of us younger women. I like your values and principles, as well as your straight-shooting style.

I like that you are a doctor, an educationist and an activist. I like that you wear wine-coloured, perfectly applied nail varnish and that you dress like a dream. You are inspiration and aspiration in a single, polished package. At least, you were.

That your political aspirations crashed is neither here nor there. You tried, and that’s what is most important. I felt you belonged in Parliament. With your pedigree, your voice is necessary in South African politics.

But to continue to have voice and presence, it is my humble opinion, Ma’am, that you need to make good with the people who gave their all for you.

I sat at a table the other day with a former party worker of yours. The person has had to sell her bicycle, among other assets, to fund day-to-day expenses. Her savings have been wiped out because she has not been paid for months. Her elderly parents had to fly her back home. This is a woman of prospects with a long and decorated CV.

So is my colleague Thabo Leshilo’s. He is a respected editor and a Nieman fellow – part of the network of excellent leaders in journalism who have gone through the fellowship year at Harvard.

Leshilo also threw in his lot with you because he believed in your project. He wasn’t short of job offers when he accepted yours. You owe him a lot of money too, and an apology.

Leshilo heard of your marriage with the DA through the media. Imagine the humiliation of being your spokesperson – your voice, eyes and ears – but being cut out of an important decision like that.

Ma’am, it has made me think.

Leaders walk their talk, or so I’ve learnt from your many writings. If there is a disjuncture between word and deed, where is the leadership?

Yes, we’re all human, I know. We make mistakes. But the other mark of leadership is we clean up as best we can. All I see is you walking away from your mistakes and blaming everyone else.

I learnt that you meant to do the right thing when you cashed in some of your immense wealth. By your own measure, you put it at R55?million.

That’s more than enough to raise a village or a whole town on. Forever.

There is enough in there to pay all your debts, wipe your slate clean and walk away with your back straight and proud – and still keep your Jaguar and what I believe is a beautiful home in Camps Bay with an art collection to die for.

But I believe you rescinded the decision to cash in some shares to pay, and sent an email saying you would do all you can to protect your assets.

For yourself.

Now, several small businesses who made your posters, did your pamphlets, secured your offices and person and arranged your stages are going belly-up. On platform upon platform, you valorised small and medium-sized businesses as the engine room of a future economy.

These businesses, as you might be aware, often have low margins and tiny cash flows; they operate on relationships of trust with big clients.

Their trust in you is smashed and one such owner, Tracy Tarry, told us she had run up loans against her home because she hasn’t been paid by you. She’s had to borrow money to pay her kids’ school fees.

A few other small businesses are suing you.

When City Press asked you about all this a while ago, you brushed off the query and told us to contact Agang.

Come on, Ma’am. There is no Agang without you. Those two no-name brands who hold seats in Parliament won’t see another term.

The Agang plan, as you conceived it, has failed as a party political experiment.

You left a similar situation when you started the well-funded Citizens Movement. An excellent team of people joined your dream then. But before it could gel, you changed direction midstream to start a political party that took many of them by surprise, some by shock.

And when I watched DA leader Helen Zille trying to explain away the disaster of your short union with her, I saw something else there.

She played the politician when she called your bluff (you couldn’t be both Agang leader and DA presidential candidate). But I also saw a friend rejected and hurt by your actions. There’s been a lot of that, Ma’am.

Being chased by creditors and using a technical and obstructionist defence (like someone else in our fine land) sits like an ill-fitting suit on such an elegant person as yourself.

Usually, you call me immediately when we get something wrong. This is how I have come to know you. I thought you would call me upon reading our report a fortnight ago on your line of creditors. Your silence said a lot.

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