Charming chameleon

2013-03-17 10:00

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Local residents remain divided on whether to vote Agang SA, writes Sipho Masondo.

Journalists expected Dr Mamphela Ramphele to reach Bochum in a swirling cloud of dust caused by a convoy of speeding SUVs with tinted windows; but instead she arrived in an Audi A4 with her driver and a bodyguard.

Nor did she arrive at her home village of Uitkyk, just outside Bochum, wearing an executive suit and high-heeled shoes.

Instead, she wore a pair of flat brown shoes, a shweshwe-fabric dress and a straw hat.

Within minutes of arriving at her parents’ homestead in the Limpopo village, Ramphele was seen eating vetkoek, saying “they are my favourite”.

She sang, danced and kissed the cheeks and lips of women who came to the house to welcome her.

Critics have dismissed Ramphele’s proposed political platform, Agang SA, as an elitist club that will amount to nothing as soon as she discovers

just how difficult it is to convince rural people to turn their backs on the ruling ANC.

But if her tour of Uitkyk on Monday and Lenyenye, near Tzaneen, on Tuesday is anything to go by, Ramphele might just be hiding an ace up her sleeve.

What she revealed during the visits was the ability to gracefully morph from a steel-willed businesswoman into an ordinary 65-year-old woman who loves vetkoek, sings and dances with rural women, and seems to understand their daily struggles.

In Bochum on Monday, women ululated and sang a song whose lyrics translate to: “We are coming with you wherever you are going, Mamphela.”

The gathering was poorly attended, with less than 200 people showing up, but she downplayed this, saying party organisers and volunteers would be recruited to visit communities and inform people about Agang SA.

Ramphele’s mantra is simple: politics can be done differently.

And she speaks about it with sincere conviction, like a priest telling people about heaven.

She said: “It doesn’t have to be dirty. We can have positive politics by insisting that things be done the right way. We can change our political culture and politics can be thought of in a different and new way.”

Tebogo Mphahlele came to listen to her on Monday.

He said: “I can’t promise her my vote just yet. Let us see the launch of the party and their campaigning first. If the party is promising, I will vote for them, otherwise I will stick to my tried and tested ANC.”

Mphahlele’s sentiments were echoed by Mmapitsi Maleka, who said: “We will wait and see. You know, all people make grand promises when they start parties, but it all soon ends up in disappointments as they start fighting for positions.

“Our beloved ANC has disappointed somewhat, but it is unlikely to disintegrate like Cope. If she (Ramphele) keeps her word, I will probably vote for her as maybe she will bring fresh air into our politics.”

Many others were charmed.

Murungwa Molepo was ready to renounce his ANC membership for Agang SA.

He said: “I will definitely vote for her. I’m tired of empty promises by the ruling party. She looks like she knows what she is doing. In fact, I will help the party recruit everyone in Uitkyk.”

The visit on Monday wasn’t just about engaging with Uitkyk and Bochum’s residents.

Ramphele also visited her grandparents’ and parents’ graves to inform them about Agang?SA and ask for their blessings.

Her parents’ homestead, which she has rebuilt with the help of her siblings, comprises two modest thatched houses.

The smaller house has two bedrooms, both with en-suite bathrooms.

The lounge, furnished with red leather couches, doubles as a kitchen.

The main house has three bedrooms, a dining room, a lounge, a kitchen, a pantry and a bathroom.

There are also two outside toilets and showers, both modern.

The yard is paved and there is a barn.

Ramphele donned another outfit, and perhaps a different persona, when she travelled to Lenyenye in Tzaneen on Tuesday.

She wore traditional Pedi attire – a black skirt, a blue blouse with an accompanying shawl, a yellow covering for her head and black sandals.

Her first stop was at the home of Queen Bessie Maake of Bakgaga-ba-Maake, who sheltered her during the 1980s when she was banished by the apartheid government.

She spent eight years in Lenyenye, during which she helped establish a number of community projects, among them a daycare centre, a bricklaying project and a community health centre, which has since been renamedafter her.

Although the bricklaying project has collapsed somewhat, Ramphele said at some point the operation “employed 29 women and owned two trucks, three tractors and machinery”.

The daycare centre still exists and those who run it have made a sculpture in honour of Ramphele.

Using her own money, she also established the Ithuseng Community Health Centre, today known as the Dr Mamphela Ramphele Community Empowerment Centre, where she treated both children and adults during her time in exile.

Addressing about 500 people at the health centre, she drew parallels between her projects and the reconstruction that she said was necessary in South Africa.

“Just like we built the daycare centre, bricklaying project and the community health centre, we – the entire community – can help build a new South Africa,” Ramphele told her audience.

Many of those who came to listen to her pledged their support to Agang.

Sabelo Nkuna said: “Why would I not vote for her? Look at what she has done for our community. She is a community person who is interested in seeing people develop.”

There was a cautionary tone in Katekani Shirinza’s comment: “I don’t care who is in power, so long as they deliver.

“If Mamphela keeps her heart in the community, she has my vote. I just hope she won’t change like many in the ANC have as a result of power.”

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