SA needs radical transformation

Circle Capital executive chairman Mamphela Ramphele at a breakfast meeting yesterday to introduce the company to the media. Pic: Robert Botha. 14/07/2005. © Business Day.\n\nSunday Times, Business Times, 17/08/2008. Pg. 07
Circle Capital executive chairman Mamphela Ramphele at a breakfast meeting yesterday to introduce the company to the media. Pic: Robert Botha. 14/07/2005. © Business Day.\n\nSunday Times, Business Times, 17/08/2008. Pg. 07

Dr Mamphela Ramphele says her approach to work today is not much different from her youth, her time as one of the managing directors of the World Bank and her tenure as vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

Ramphele is chairman of black-owned investment company Circle Capital Ventures. She also heads the company's recent acquisition Edu-Loan, a private finance company focused on education, which was owned by Standard Bank. The deal was recently approved by the competition commission.

"I am now in the private sector and enjoying what I am doing to pursue the same agenda that I have pursued as a student activist - my country becoming a democratic, more egalitarian and prosperous country."

She smiles when asked whether the ANC government led by President Thabo Mbeki has adequately acknowledged Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko's vision.

"We have this beautiful Afrikaans expression: Agteros kom ook in die kraal, meaning that the last ox also arrives eventually in the kraal.

"There is no doubt that the President's speech (at the Steve Biko Memorial lecture recently) was brilliant and a glowing tribute to Steve, but it has come 15 years late.

"And the sad thing is, Steve did not need any lauding, he was opposed to hero-worshipping. But we need his ideas to shove us into the transformation of this society," says Ramphele.

"Everywhere after liberation, the political elite take over, want to have total control. And so an acknowledgement of heroes and heroines who are not part of that elite tends to be neglected, because they would take away from the glory of the new elite who have a need to own the freedom rather than having the freedom owned by everybody.

"South Africa is an amazing example of this because this is one country where we did not have an army of liberation marching over the borders into South Africa. We had a genuine struggle that was waged within and outside of the country.

"Everybody - ordinary men and women in South Africa - participated, whether actively or passively.

"So, then, to come in and claim that it is the army of liberation that freed our people is historical revisionism of the worst kind," she argues.

She says there is much inequality in the country, but it was to be expected, considering the effects of apartheid education.

"That is why the controversy about white women is so ridiculous because if you understand anything at all about economic and social development, you will know that white women had the same education as white men, but they were held back by white male chauvinism. Now they are free and they are sprinting. Like everyone of us who has the capacity to sprint, not because we are smarter than the other people, but because we have had the benefit of education and training."

Ramphele says the second reason why inequality is growing is that we have not done a good job in transforming the education sector.

"We had to transform the education sector, but we neglected the basics. Another denial is that somehow we expect the same teachers produced by Bantu education, to miraculously be able to do all the things that Bantu education stopped them from doing. We needed to move out of that denial to do a skills audit to see what our teachers can do.

"So I think that our mistake was that we went for a Rolls Royce, but our drivers were used to driving a skorokoro. We don't say we should have stayed with a skorokoro, but we could have gone for a VW and could have been way ahead."

She argues that we are far behind other countries. "When you end up being behind Mozambique, Swaziland and Malawi in how your grades 5 and 8 do, you have trouble.

"Unfortunately, you don't see that we are having this trouble because the political elite are sending their kids to schools that are functional or to private schools.

"Why do you think kids are killing each other in schools. Why do you think girls are getting pregnant? Why do you think we have regressed so far? Teenage pregnancies were a rarity at the end of the 1980s because people went for prevention.

"There were a lot of clinics all over the place. All non-governmental organisations, such as the Planned Parenthood Association, have been demobilised."

Ramphele seems reluctant to be drawn into the leadership tussle.

"Instead of saying which leaders, we should be saying what kind of leadership we want. We need transformative leadership."

She says the first transformative leader was Nelson Mandela.

"We have to give credit to President Mbeki for having played a seminal role in transforming the economy. People are wondering why the economy is boiling so much.

"In no small measure he transformed that economy from a bankrupt economy, first as deputy president and now president. He has also done something transformative, which is that we have learned at last to accept that we are Africans.

"It is a major step. So we are not short of transformative leaders who have come in. Mandela was the Moses and then Aaron took over and now we are really firmly in the promised land. But now we have to work on how to plug the gaps that have become evident.

"I have great faith. The fact that we have public debates about who should be the appropriate leader is good. There are enough transformative leaders in our country," she says.