Newsmaker – Roasting Ramphele

2014-02-03 08:00

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Are the many faces of Mamphela a political asset or a liability?

Just a hint of Oscar de la Renta wafts elegantly around. It’s the perfume, she emphasises, not eau de cologne.

A year ago when Agang was formed, her Xhosa outfit and that massive headdress loudly proclaimed a single message: Africa.

Last week, decked out in jewellery next to Helen Zille, she looked like someone’s rich aunt from Camps Bay.

So who is the real Mamphela Ramphele?

“Mamphela Ramphele is all of the above,” she says, smiling sweetly.

“If you look at my photos for the Agang campaign, and sometimes even at the office, I use my heritage, I use Xhosa, Pedi, Venda ... And I also wear designer outfits. That’s the beauty of being in South Africa. You have all this diversity. And I leverage it,” she says, waving her hand with the oyster-pink fingernails in a wide gesture.

She is now the DA’s presidential candidate, but barely two months ago she was still critical of the DA as a “white party” that promoted “white interests”.

She pretends to be annoyed. “No, no, no, sorry. Don’t quote me out of context.”

That was in your book (A Passion For Freedom). “No, wait, go and read what I said.”

What did you say? “That 60% of black South Africans see the DA as a white party that could take us back to apartheid. That’s not Mamphela! These are figures from the Institute of Race Relations. I also said, and it is widely known, that a city like Cape Town – a city under DA control – still reflects the geography of apartheid like the rest of South Africa. That’s a fact! And I will say it today again, the way Mandela once said: It doesn’t matter if you are the party of apartheid, we need each other to build a future we believe in.”

So what has changed?

“Just look at the context. It’s really important for journalists to pay attention to the details.

People repeat the same mistakes. In my book, I say it over and over: we [she and the DA] agreed on the principles.

The problem was to find a mechanism that would allow us to work together to change this idea of the DA being a white party.

In my opinion, a mere repackaging will not do.

“Today we have Agang, which I didn’t have last year.

This platform has mobilised South Africans for a year, has created a new political language by the citizens, of value-based ­leadership.

We can now have credible talks and collaboration with the DA.

“Also, last year Mandela was still there as an icon. People would not have left the ANC, no matter what the party got up to.

Secondly, [you hear the pedagogy that led to her 18 honorary doctorates] last year the ANC was solid.

Today it is crumbling. The ANC Youth League is a shadow of what it was. The opportunities are different, bigger. The risks too.

“Mandela’s death made me realise it’s time for democrats in South Africa to consolidate the centre – as I said in my earlier article in City Press – because the country is in danger.”

So, the country has changed. But the DA is still the same.

“No, that’s not true either. The DA now has many more black members than at the start of last year. They also rethought their policies in a number of areas.”

Even your son refuses to vote DA. It’s on record.

“Not that again!” she reprimands me. “Well, that’s the point. You’ll say you’re quoting me, but I used that [her son] in my book as an example of that 60%. That was his view last year. My son is with me. He supports everything I do.”

He will vote for the DA now?

“No, he won’t vote for the DA. He ...”

Won’t put his cross next to his mother’s face?

“... will vote for the combined Agang and DA.”

Dr Ramphele has in the past referred to the wounds of the country – the legacy of apartheid on both sides. She said the DA did not understand these wounds.

“Mmm.”

How do you feel about this now?

“Well, they still don’t understand it. People like you, who are white, do not understand it, and people like Gwede Mantashe, who is black, also don’t. So it’s not unique to the DA. In my little book called Conversations with My Sons And Daughters, I said South Africans are wounded people without even knowing it.How else can you explain the fact that a party rotten to the core, led by someone with 700-plus corruption charges against him, who has built himself a palace with my tax money ... how is it possible that we can assume that man will win the election? How? If this was a normal country, do you think that would happen?”

The “shotgun marriage” with the DA, as Beeld’s Lood column called it, had many people asking questions about her integrity in the past few days.

She leans forward to show her annoyance.

“Now listen, here’s the story. My criticism of the DA stands. And they knew it. So nothing has changed. All I said is that it’s time for democrats to get together. That doesn’t mean we’re suddenly perfect.”

Are you not just jumping on the DA bandwagon because Agang is bankrupt? Using Helen as a parachute?

“My party is not bankrupt.”

Some of the workers have not received salaries since December.

“The party has cash flow problems,” she snaps back. “There’s a difference between cash flow problems and being bankrupt. The only bankrupt party is the morally bankrupt ANC. We have cash flow problems because our donors were on holiday. That money is flowing in now.”

But Agang did not get all the support you had hoped for?

“Firstly, I think we should stick to the facts.”

If Agang had been a huge success, would you still have considered working with the DA?

“Absolutely. At this moment, our people are protesting in Waterfall in Limpopo, thousands of Agang supporters. We have thousands of Agang supporters in Gauteng, North West and ...”

And in Braamfontein they’re saying goodbye Dr Ramphele, Agang is going on without you.

“There will always be dissatisfied people when big changes like this are taking place,” she says, using Mandela once more as an example: when he was released, some ANC members called him a sellout.

“He went to talk to them, allayed their fears, made them feel they were being heard. If people are offended, you don’t say it’s illogical, you go and listen to them.”

What are you getting out of it? Will you become a normal DA MP? Or challenge Lindiwe Mazibuko?

“Why would I challenge her? I have never been a member of a political party. I have no aspirations for a political office.

I am only doing this because the country is in trouble. And I’m doing it for my grandchildren.

I’m going to Parliament to serve the people of South Africa.

“That’s exactly what it is! I did not want to be vice-chancellor of UCT. I was forced into it to serve the people of South Africa. I did not want to go to the World Bank. I went there to serve the people of the world. I came back, I was in the business world, I resigned from highly remunerative board positions for this.”

Her future does not lie with the DA, she says, it lies in South Africa. “I am not a member of the DA. I was nominated for the presidential position.”

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