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South African businesswoman set to threaten ANC’s dominance

Mamphela Ramphele has been wooing potential donors to a new party

Image Credit: AP
Mamphela Ramphele is a South African former anti-apartheid activist, a doctor, academic and a successful businesswoman.
Gulf News

Dubai:Nando’s chicken chain is to South Africa as KFC is to the US, in every town, on busy street corners in every city. And the peri-peri chicken chain’s television ads are humorous, often making fun of the political and social climate in South Africa. One infamous spot made quite the political statement.

A customer was offered “chicken dish A” or “chicken dish C”.

“But what about chicken dish B?” the customer asked.

“There is no choice but A.N.C.” came the server’s response — a stark comment that the African National Congress is the only realistic option for most voters in today’s South Africa.

That’s about to change, many South Africans hope, with the decision that one the nation’s most dynamic women appears set to enter politics

Celebrated academic and liberal darling Mamphela Ramphele — a former World Bank managing director and anti-apartheid activist — has been wooing potential donors to a new party.

The idea of a political group one day emerging as a serious rival to the ultra-dominant ANC is a perennial topic of conversation among South Africa’s political class, as the ANC has maintained a firm grip on power since the end of apartheid in 1994.

“She is one of the great success stories of post-apartheid South Africa,” said Adam Habib from the University of Johannesburg.

After she founded the Black Consciousness movement with Biko, who was murdered in police custody in 1977, authorities banished her to a remote northern town until 1984.

A doctor and successful businesswoman, the 65-year-old Ramphele holds a commerce degree and a doctorate in social anthropology, and was the first black woman to run a South African university. Today she sits on the board of several companies.

Although she has frequently joined causes championed by the ANC, she has become increasingly outspoken about the party’s rule, calling it “corrupt” and “unaccountable”.

The ANC, Ramphele argues, has failed to improve the lot of impoverished blacks in what remains one of the world’s most unequal nations 19 years after the end of apartheid.

“Is it possible to have a liberation movement transforming itself into a democratic governing party?” she asked in a BBC interview last year.

“There were glimpses of it during the [Nelson] Mandela administration... but the rest of the ANC, quite frankly, from the very beginning was more about taking control and... stepping into the shoes of the former coloniser.”

Recently Ramphele is said to have been fund-raising in the US, where she confessed “she is now going into politics to save the country”, according to the City Press newspaper.

She later went out of her way not to deny those reports in a statement.

“I have always been clear in articulating my views on matters of public importance and will speak on my own behalf about any decisions I might take about my future engagements.”

Susan Booysen, political analyst with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said Ramphele is “really pre-empting this through her publications and social commentary that there is some political party or some political role in her future.”

Her timing is impeccable, just one year before presidential elections.

And Ramphele’s squeaky-clean reputation could give the ANC a run for their money, media and analysts agree.

“I think that South Africa can only benefit from a viable opposition party,” Habib said.

With inputs from AFP