Mamphele Ramphele’s active citizenry

2012-11-13 11:11

Political activist, humanitarian and former managing director of the World Bank Dr Mamphela Ramphele sets the bar high for leaders.

Your greatest professional achievement?

The transformation of the University of Cape Town into a world-class African university.

At a time when the country had high hopes for the future, there was a willingness to undertake the task of transformation from an old, white, male institution to a truly African university.

And your greatest challenge?
Winning the trust of both sides of the transformation divide – students and academics.

There was scepticism from established academics. The students had also become cynical of the prospects of radical transformation.

They saw me as a threat to their comfort zone of being the oppressed.

I was tough and told them they must perform. I removed the barriers to excellence and allowed them to change their self-image.

What values do you think young South Africans need to adopt in order to get ahead?

They are in a fortunate position because the Constitution spells out the right to human dignity and respect for yourself and others – the concept of ubuntu.

You can’t respect others if you don’t respect yourself. Community starts with me.

If you could’ve done one thing differently in your life, what would it be?
Mainly choices I made in my personal life, like marrying someone while being in love with someone else. My professional choices were mostly forced on me – I would’ve wanted to become a chemist.

I love physical science, but there were no career prospects for a black woman back then.

What sort of leader are you?

I have evolved as a leader. I was very shy as a young woman, until I realised my strength and talent. I set very high standards. I’m a tough taskmaster, but very supportive.

What are your core values?

At the centre lies human dignity. What drives me to get up at 6am at the age of 64 is the quest to make sure this country lives up to its commitment to promote dignity.

What inspires you?
The dream of a great country. I don’t understand why people don’t spend every waking moment working to make this country great.

What is the biggest professional compliment you’ve ever received?

When I get a hug from a young person, especially students of UCT. When they say ‘we thought you were unfair and tough, but we thank you for forcing us to rise to the challenge of excellence’.

Your life motto?

To do the best I can every day in everything I can – from reading the best book to enjoying lovely destinations on holiday with my children.

For more info on Ramphele’s Citizens Movement, visit

Four things i learnt the hard way

1. Trust your own judgement. Don’t be led by others. Stick with your inner voice – it’s the most authentic one.
2. Do things that make sense and that rhymes with the rhythm of your life.
3. Stand your ground, even in a hostile environment.
4. Returning anger and hate with anger and hate never works. Disarm your opponent by showing them the respect they don’t think you deserve.

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