Q&A: The post-Mandela South Africa

Mamphele Ramphele, founder of new Agang SA political party, warns against ‘deification’ of Nelson Mandela.

Mamphela Ramphele has been a vocal critic of South Africa's dominant ANC party [AFP]
Mamphela Ramphele has been a vocal critic of South Africa's dominant ANC party [AFP]

Qunu, South Africa – Measured against the likes of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance, the political clout of Agang SA is negligible. The party, which was launched earlier this year by Mamphele Ramphele, has a name that means “build” in the Sesotho language.

The party claims to stand for “clean government” and “to restore the promise of freedom to all South Africans: equality, dignity and hope for all”. But the political landscape in South Africa is treacherous, and the ANC remains by far more powerful.

The realities on the ground, however, are changing quickly.

Agang SA may be small, but it is the among the latest in a new set of political parties, including Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, that have recently sprouted up with the aim of ultimately unseating the ANC.

The ANC is assured victory in the next election; the party of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo still enjoys healthy support. But disappointment with the ruling party is rising – especially among urban youth – and the ANC has so far appeared unable to win the trust of this demographic.

With the passing of Mandela on December 5, 2013, many upset with poor government services and the governing party’s aloof attitude to the poor say the ANC was buried along with Mandela.

The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, is still battling to secure the trust of many ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, enthusiasm for the EFF and Agang SA is growing among the young.

Mamphele Ramphele, a former University of Cape Town vice chancellor and World Bank executive, commands deep respect from many South Africans. Whereas Malema has demanded radical changes such as the nationalisation of the country’s mines, Ramphele has called for reform and better management of South Africa’s human and material resources. 

Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa speaks with Ramphele on the legacy of Nelson Mandela – affectionately known as Madiba; on the political opportunism that she claims has already emerged in his name; and on what a post-Mandela South Africa might look like.

Al Jazeera: There has been much praise for Madiba over the past two weeks – but also some criticism. What is your perspective on the legacy of Mandela?

Mamphele Ramphele: You can only judge a leader based on the era in which they were operating. I believe Madiba did an extraordinary job in his era. For example, he created an enabling environment for negotiations, he created the institutions which are foundation of democracy; he has modelled servant leadership like no one else, that made South Africans feel bigger themselves. People felt included.

These are things you need to acknowledge. He was the first to acknowledge that he was coming back to a country he no longer knows. He asked me if we can put together a panel of experts that can help with policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Unfortunately, his deputy president Thabo Mbeki said no. He can’t be held responsible for failure he foresaw.

AJ: There is a fine line between appreciation and deification. Are South Africans crossing the line?

Ramphele: Mandela would have been the first to admonish anyone who would deify him. Madiba said himself: “I am not a saint, but a sinner who keeps trying.” He also said that the freedom we [are] enjoying today was not his sole product. He was part of a collective effort. He gave credit to those outside the ANC who worked against apartheid, and even gave credit to the international community who supported the struggle.

The deification is happening despite his attempts at admonishing us to avoid it. The problem with the deification with any leader is that you disempower yourself. You then discount your own ability to rise to the challenge of leadership and the special contribution each one can make.

In my view, South Africans must thank Madiba and they must honour his memory by leading where they are. You can be a leader such as Madiba in any capacity. You can be a good leader at home, in the workplace, in the community, in the trade union. Anywhere. Everywhere. We can all behave in a way that takes us closer to the dream he lived and worked so hard for.

AJ: How does the passing of Madiba affect the dynamics of next year’s elections?

Ramphele: Well, we saw it at the funeral. There is hijacking of Madiba’s … memory. A state funeral was hijacked and became an ANC [African National Congress] public event. This started at the memorial at the FNB [Stadium] in Soweto where they ended up with egg on their face, when the president was booed. [The] president of the country is the president of the ANC, which is what they project. In fact, the programme directors at the memorial and at the funeral were two ANC leaders. None of the state officials were given the opportunity to preside [over] the event.  

Many of the posters praising Madiba on the roads of Gauteng were dressed in the ANC’s colours. And this is abuse. And all the signs are there that this approach is going to be scaled up even more.

To me, this is an indication of the ANC being nervous about next year’s elections; the population is angry with their failure to deliver up to the promises of freedom, also having economic and social parity. When you think of the Waterkloof landing story, the issues regarding Nkandla and now the hijacking of this funeral – people will punish them.

Our job as a party, which is offering a fresh start, is to mobilise South Africans to put us on a path we can all be part of. What is going on now is very painful, because the majority of South Africans are living in misery and poverty.

AJ: Since you mention your party, Agang-SA, how do you see yourself fitting into the political space in South Africa?

Ramphele: Agang-SA stands for living the values Mandela fought for so hard – the values he said he would live for and [if] need be, to die for.

Which is to make sure that no group dominates another, to make sure that equality is promoted everywhere in our society. Agang-SA stands on the proud instruction of the constitution. We also stand for a commitment to make those ideals come alive in the lives of ordinary people. The one key area which encapsulates Madiba’s own passion and commitment is the focus on children and youth to live in a safe, secure environment, and to get education.

Madiba always said: “Look at me, I come from a poor rural area. I am where I am because of education.”

Education is the key for the future of everybody. This ANC government has destroyed the education system in this country by virtue of failure to lead, failure to manage, and to fire irresponsible teachers who hide behind the umbrella of trade unions. We are supportive of workers’ unions, but that right cannot be used to curtail the rights of children to a future that can be bright because their talents have been developed. We need to give young people a chance.

We are a party that wants to offer South Africa a fresh start to build a South Africa we all want. The key to that country is education and training that unleashes the talents of people.

AJ: Respectfully, what experience do you have to navigate South Africa’s political terrain?

Ramphele: I have been an activist all my life. I have set up and sustained projects in the most difficult apartheid years. The clinics I set up in the Eastern Cape and the education projects set up in the Limpopo are still going strong. I have also experienced as an educationist that worked to transform the University of Cape Town into the best university in the country and the continent, and amongst the best in the world. I also helped the World Bank develop an education, health and social welfare programme. The human development portfolio at the World Bank was developed under my leadership. I learned from global experiences of how you transform failed education systems.

I have the theory, the practice of it. I’ve been there and I’ve done it. There is no obstacle to South Africa succeeding where countries like Chile, Brazil and South Korea have succeeded. We have the resources, the knowledge and we can succeed.

There is [also] talk that I appeal only to the “intellectual class”, but I have support across the country and across the board; here in the Eastern Cape to Gauteng. This idea is merely a misconception.

AJ: A post-Mandela South Africa – what does it look like?

Ramphele: I see post-Mandela South Africa as a child who has moved to a teenager and into an adult. We now have to be the adult that Mandela nurtured; we have to celebrate unity in diversity at every step. It is possible.

One just needs to look at the young generation: They are happily enjoying the diverse culture of this country. They are thriving because they are more open to each other. Gone are the days where “them” and “us” is the decider of who they relate with. 

We need to keep open by protecting the institutions of the democracy against those who try to destroy, so that they can remain unaccountable.

This is the biggest risk to our democracy; the destruction of the foundations of this country. We need to make sure that those who seek to enrich themselves are not allowed to destroy the country, and the heritage of the great Madiba.

Source: Al Jazeera

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