Nelson Mandela Dream for Presidential Candidate Mamphela Ramphele

Nelson MandelaMamphela Ramphele, prominent anti-apartheid activist, friend to Nelson Mandela, and partner of the late black consciousness leader Steve Biko (who died in police custody in 1977), is to lead the South African opposition party’s election bid against the ruling African National Congress (ANC). This is the first time the ANC has not had the legendary Nelson Mandela as its figurehead during elections. Dr. Ramphele, who has accepted the post of opposition presidential candidate, has stated that it is her dream to fulfill the wishes of her dear friend Madiba.

Having previously refused an invitation to join forces with South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Dr. Ramphele made headline news on Tuesday when she said she would stand as the DA’s presidential candidate for this year’s elections. She said she believed it was in the “best interests of South Africa,” acknowledging that the country was heading “into turbulent waters.”

Nelson Mandela
The legendary Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president

Many people have recently voiced concern over what will happen to the ANC – and South Africa – now that the legendary icon Nelson Mandela has gone. The elections are scheduled for April and mark two decades of ANC rule.

Acknowledging that his death “has changed many things” for the country, Dr. Ramphele said South Africa today is the “South Africa we dreamed of.” What South Africans have now is a place that was set out for them by Madiba, “that we will now create,” she said. This would be a place where everyone would “come together at last,” whether they were black or white, rich or poor, from rural or urban areas, were young or old, and irrespective of whether they are men or women.

The DA’s new presidential candidate, Ramphele Mamphela, aged 66, is a medical doctor, university executive, hugely successful businesswoman, “global public servant,” and a former MD of the World Bank (sharing the position with three others). She has won many international and national awards, and formed the Agang SA political party a year ago, specifically to fight the 2014 elections in South Africa. At the time, DA leader Helen Zille (who is known to be a good friend of Dr. Ramphele’s) had hoped that Dr. Ramphele would join the opposition party.

The name of her one-year-old party Agang SA means “build SA” in the Sesotho language, and she chose it because she felt it was time to “restore the promise of freedom.” She still has a dream for the future, even though it is outside her fledgling political party, and clearly she believes that former President Nelson Mandela would approve.

Shortly after the public announcement, the DA presidential candidate Mamphela Ramphele was active on Twitter, referring to her friend and hero, Nelson Mandela several times. She tweeted that having “fought in the struggle” (against apartheid), it was now the time “for South Africans to demand a government they deserve.” It was “an historic moment,” she wrote, because now “we are going to take away the excuse of race and challenge the ANC to be judged on its performance.” It was also a time to “take steps across the divide to forge a new South Africa for the people who have been forgotten and neglected by the ANC,” a dream that has inspired her.

She tweeted that Madiba had been “a visionary leader” and acknowledged how he achieved Government of National Unity, adding that it was up to leaders to inspire and lead “sometimes into new territory.” She said she saw herself as “the bridge between my generation that fought for freedom and the generation that now needs to build the country of our dreams.”

“Nelson Mandela brought us a government of National Unity. You reach out to others out when you are strong – not when you are weak.” said Ramphele

Nelson Mandela
Helen Zille, leader of South Africa’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

In a press conference, Zille said that Dr. Ramphele’s decision to become the DA’s presidential candidate was a “game-changing moment.” She also tweeted, “We are going to do whatever we can” to have Mamphela Ramphele “elected as President.” The choice, she said, was with the voters of South Africa.

Recently there has been considerable speculation about a merger or some other kind of agreement between the DA and Dr. Ramphele, although media reports say that Agang SA staff only discovered today what had been agreed. Asked by journalists if her decision was based on financial difficulties facing her year-old party, she replied that only one South African party was bankrupt, and that “is the ANC.”

According to DA presidential candidate, Dr. Ramphele, the merger is an “historic moment” that will remove the “excuse of race.” Promising the way forward to “the country of our dreams,” for her this is clearly part of her dream that began when she first met Nelson Mandela in Pollsmoor Prison in July 1988. She relates that he was clearly “a man of true greatness,” acknowledging that she was “in awe of him.” Loyal to the ANC, he was not “narrowly partisan,” she says. He was though adamant the Steve Bilko (Dr. Ramphele’s partner and the father of her two children) must “take his rightful place in the history of the liberation movement in South Africa.” He wanted Mamphela Ramphele to know that Steve Biko should never be forgotten.

When Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in December last year, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele delivered a fitting tribute and remembrance to him. She knows that Nelson Mandela, like other world icons seeking for freedom, had a dream, and in her own words she has promised to “deliver the country of your dreams; the country of our dreams.” The DA’s presidential candidate is confident, saying, “We are the government-in-waiting.”

By Penny Swift

Business Day
Nelson Mandela Foundation