BOOK REVIEW: Dreams, Betrayal and Hope

2017-05-16 12:23
Dreams, Betrayal and Hope, by Mamphela Ramphele.

Dreams, Betrayal and Hope, by Mamphela Ramphele.

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Dr. Mamphela Ramphele is a South African icon and it is very difficult to fault her struggle credentials.

Her politics, however, is another matter and her latest book Dreams, Betrayal and Hope reads like a lecture she might have given to first year students, complete with referencing. But in key areas, assumptions are made with no evidence.

To be fair, Ramphele spends a significant number of words explaining the debacle that saw her briefly join the Democratic Alliance, only to announce a split as relations soured between herself and then DA leader, Helen Zille.

But the subtext is clear: She is not a political person. Indeed, the most consistent theme that emerges in the book is the lack of political experience, to be most polite.

This is difficult to comprehend given her struggle credentials, but there it is - in all of 188 pages.

Compelling evidence

For someone who spent time with Steve Biko, rose to the position of Vice Chancellor at UCT, and was managing director of the World Bank, she comes across as sheltered (again, most politely).

She essentially divides her book into two sections: The betrayal of the South African dream and the proposed solutions to return the country to the promise of 1994.

In the first section, she goes to some lengths to explain the failure of her political party, Agang SA, by arguing that despite sessions among the disenfranchised, they could not compete with the African National Congress.

She claims that the ANC used state resources to fight its election campaign - whether you agree or otherwise, she presents no compelling evidence to back up these claims.

The argument rings hollow when one considers the gains made by the Economic Freedom Fighters which has overtaken Cope in terms of its representation in Parliament.

That aside, her claim that the country is totally corrupt is flawed when one considers that the judiciary and Chapter 9 institutions continue to hold the government to account. The country, while flawed, is not South Sudan, Somalia, Syria or Yemen, according to Transparency International - and that's only the countries where they could measure.

Emotional settlement

The narrative might be popular, but without being an apologist for the ruling party, one has to make your case to the electorate in order to gain political power.

Ramphele complains about the pragmatism of the DA, but it's the lack of pragmatism that saw Agang SA fail at the ballot box. It is when she proposes solutions that the lack of knowledge of the political game becomes apparent. There is a strong push for an emotional settlement, citing examples from Germany, Israel and the US.

She does not consider how economic growth played a role in healing societal divisions and inequality and the recent history in the US of fatal police actions of mainly blacks does not appear to support her argument of national reconciliation.

In particular, Dreams, Betrayal and Hope has a strong focus on education, lambasting the government for inefficient spending on education and a lack of free, high quality tertiary education. As a wealthy person herself, one would imagine that her suggestions for spending on education would include a price tag, but no research on the cost of her education plan is presented.

Maybe it's reserved for the next book, or perhaps it's assumed the money would appear when corruption is tackled, along with a range of other strategies she believes would free up wasted or stolen resources. It's a noble idea, but as any law student might tell you: There's a big difference between knowing something and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ramphele has her favourites: She likes Mmusi Maimane, and is not a great fan of Helen Zille. She's keen on a woman president though one might imagine that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma might not make that list.

Ultimately, Dreams, Betrayal and Hope delivers a narrative that speaks to a confirmation bias, but lacks the credibility of a South African political discussion, despite the obvious credibility of the author.

* Dreams, Betrayal and Hope is published by Penguin Random House and is available online and in stores. 

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