Why Mamphela Rampele is anything but a ‘sellout’

2014-02-02 14:00

So what are we to make of the charge by post-1994 revolutionaries that Mamphela Ramphele is a “sellout” for accepting the nomination as the DA’s presidential candidate?

The short answer is that if she was a sellout, she would have sold out in the 1970s when she was going through hell at the hands of the apartheid security police.

I grew up in Ginsberg watching her being harassed by the security police almost daily. I saw her give up a potentially lucrative career as a medical doctor to set up Zanempilo Health Clinic in the deep rural areas.

I can bet you, though, that many of those who call her a sellout would never even have survived what she went through in apartheid’s prisons.

How many of today’s Teflon revolutionaries would ever give up their well-paid jobs, their comfortable existence in leafy suburbia, or even their vicarious radicalism through social media to head the Black Community Programmes when everyone else was in prison, or banned or killed?

So, please, disagree with the woman if you will, but don’t call her a sellout.

This sellout business has gone on for far too long. Many innocent lives were lost in the 1980s because someone in a mob gave this label to someone they did not like or whose political ideology they did not like.

My friends and comrades in the black consciousness movement were killed because those who could not match their intellect resorted to calling them sellouts. They even called Steve Biko a sellout.

It is a dangerous word that we should have banned from our political culture long ago. You’re a sellout if you call out those who continue to loot the state. It is also short-hand for: “I don’t really have any ideas. I just don’t like you.” Well, don’t vote for the woman if you don’t like her, but resist the temptation to insult instead of arguing.

I was appalled by Peter Ndoro and Vabakshnee Chetty making Ramphele recite her name like a little child on the SABC nightly news (if what they do can be called news). She should have told them to go jump in the lake. They would never have done that to, say, French president, Francois Hollande.

It is telling that black South Africans are still calling each other sellouts 20 years after our freedom. It just shows how powerless we really are, which raises the question of who has really sold out over the past 20 years of an ANC government.

Ramphele’s entry into the fray at the head of the DA could present voters with a choice between two paths. One path is the current one towards Sodom and Gomorrah under Jacob Zuma’s leadership – more Nkandlas, Guptagates and God-knows-what-next.

The more Zuma holds on to power, the more white people laugh at us. I see the glee in their faces every day with every scandal, as if to say: “You see, we told you so. You guys could not even run a spaza shop, let alone a country.” Black people just laugh with every presidential outburst, more in embarrassment than anything else.

The other path leads to a reconsolidated DA, whose conservative forces could undermine Ramphele herself to maintain white privilege.

But something tells me that changing a white-dominated political party could be much easier than changing many of the white-dominated institutions we inhabit.

Political parties are public bodies whose membership requires no skills or education. Ramphele’s supporters could simply walk off the streets to join the DA in huge numbers and strengthen her hand within the party.

That is why the conservatives within the DA are also opposed to her appointment. There goes the family silver, I can hear them say.

Interestingly, Ramphele will be caught between those who want all of the family silver and those want to keep all of the family silver – a classic leadership challenge that the ANC has shied away from for the past 20 years.

If I were advising her – which I am not – I would suggest staying away from election manifestos, which are too often manufactured lies that are quickly forgotten after election day.

Just commit to government efficiency, social justice and equal opportunity. Government efficiency means talent before party membership. Social justice means egalitarian ownership of the country’s assets, which has not even been attempted all of these 20 years by those who call Ramphele a sellout.

Finally, let me say that the best development for our democracy could be the new workers’ party being mooted by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.

Right now, 2014 looks set to become South Africa’s first presidential elections where voters look at the pictures of Jacob Zuma and Mamphela Ramphele on the ballot, and decide simply on the basis of each candidate’s integrity.

Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader.

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