I’ve been reading about Mamphela Ramphele, the medical doctor, anthropologist and former World Bank director who recently formed a new political party in South Africa. Called Agang in Sesotho (meaning Build), the party has been created in response to the long-ruling ANC party’s lackluster progress in addressing the deep poverty and social inequities in Africa’s largest economy. I have often griped at the social problems that affect Mtuseni and his family and community — and expressed amazement that a country with the eye-popping wealth in Sandton can have public schools with no libraries, computers, or heat.
Granted, my perspective on South Africa is through a fairly narrow lens, but the extent of core problems that I witnessed in Johannesburg and Cape Town can surely be extrapolated to areas of the country that are not centers of money or power. Although many black South Africans scrape out an existence living in abject poverty, a considerable majority support the ANC because it is the party that ended apartheid under Nelson Mandela. But that was 20 years ago. In the apartheid era, South Africa was like a house on fire. The ANC put out the blaze and slapped on a few coats of paint, but never made the necessary structural repairs. The house is still falling down.
Reading about Dr. Ramphele and her background — including a fellowship at Harvard — I thought of Hillary Clinton: another political figure with a commanding presence. A symbol of profound change. And an accomplished professional who brings to government not only intelligence but also the humanist perspective demonstrated by so many women in US politics. I felt an excitement learning about the doctor’s story and her vision for South Africa.
Dr. Ramphele said in a recent news article, “My generation has to confess to the young people of our country: we have failed you.” As Mtuseni studies by candlelight to obtain a college degree that I often fear may prove useless in the face of 60 percent youth unemployment, I can certainly agree with her statement.
After two decades of male-dominated ANC governance, perhaps it’s time for a woman to crack the country’s political glass ceiling. Perhaps black South Africans will realize that continuing to vote for a party based on gratitude for long-past achievements does not guarantee a bright future. Perhaps Mamphela Ramphele and Agang can indeed build South Africa — so that Mtuseni and his family and friends can enjoy the life of health, education and opportunity that was promised when apartheid was dismantled. As another upstart candidate once reminded a nation adrift, there is always hope.