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Dr-Mamphela-Ramphele-South-Africa-Agang-party

Source: Reuters/Yahoo!

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.

Twist and Shout

February 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

This morning Mtuseni and I were chatting on Mxit, our primary mode of dynamic, immediate conversation. We were discussing “the laptop situation” — which after taking six weeks to get a damn repair quote, the amount with VAT is so high the strategy is just to get him a new one. Then, as I told him, we can figure out how to set him up with a G3 attachment so he can go online — and hopefully finally we can video chat on Skype.

As Mtuseni said, “It feels like years since we’ve seen each other.” I agree. It’s only been a year since I was in South Africa, but often I miss him terribly. I told him how video chatting erases the sense of distance. And he replied, “It also minimizes the shouting.” When I asked what he meant, he said “You never shout at me during video conferences.”

This struck me funny… for a couple of reasons. First, all of the “shouting” he alludes to occurs via Mxit. It’s interesting how he reads my stern directions and criticisms as “shouting” — and I don’t even USE ALL CAPS, which is text vernacular for yelling. He can get very upset when I’m firm with him, sometimes responding with anger or frustration and sometimes with heartfelt contrition. Mtuseni’s very sensitive, and I always have to tread a fine line with him — blending unconditional dad love with the high demands and expectations of a coach before the Big Game.

But what really caught me this time is how he links our text chatting with shouting — and he remembers our long ago video chats with no shouting. Indeed, this is true — but the circumstances have changed markedly.

In our several months of weekly video chats three years ago, we were just getting to know each other. He was in high school, and I had little understanding of his plans or  situation. (It took over a year before he opened up about the extent of his poverty.) So it was all just easy social bonding, which continued and strengthened over long Mxit chats when the video program shut down.

But fast-forward two-plus years, and there’s a lot on the line. Mtuseni is entering his last year of college, and I’ve been trying to prepare him for the world of job hunting and employment. Partly out of him just being a 20-year-old, know-it-all knucklehead — and partly out of South African culture issues — this hasn’t been going as well as it should. It’s frustrating and worrisome. American college kids have solid academics and face a competitive but not impossible job market. Yet they still push to network, craft solid resumes and practice interview skills to improve their chances after graduation.

By comparison, Mtuseni has a substandard high school education, marginal computer skills, extremely limited access to media and information, a less-than-stellar junior tech college program — and is facing a truly dire youth employment situation. The clock is ticking. He should be doing the additional prep work that his US peers do, and then some. He thinks going to college is enough. It isn’t in the US, and it sure isn’t in South Africa. Every country has college graduates who never manage to grab the brass ring.

I’ve got too much time, money, and heart invested in Mtuseni to watch him falter and become a disillusioned unemployment statistic. So for now I press and push and “shout.” And if he doesn’t step up, he’ll hear — and see — some shouting via webcam. Hopefully he’ll get on track before we get his G3 service up and running.

Do I long for those early, easy days of “shout-free” webcam chats? Of course. But for right now, Mtuseni and I have much bigger issues to address. And some day, when our hard work and focus have resulted in him having a good job, I can put away my Bad Cop uniform… and I can listen to him gripe about being shouted at by his boss!


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