Ramphele: No more lost generations

SPOSSA presents Dr. Mamphela Ramphele: The Role of students in South Africa,31 July 2013, Endler Hall, Stellenbosch University Conservatory, Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch University’s students were addressed by the distinguished Dr. Mamphela Ramphele in a talk organised by SPOSSA (Stellenbosch Political Science Students Association). In her talk, Dr. Ramphele dealt with the role of students in South Africa. Dr. Ramphele, whom many would recognise as the leader of the new political party, Agang SA (Build South Africa), is also known for her roles as student leader when she herself was at university; as community development activist; university executive; medical doctor; researcher; as well as serving as a global public servant within international institutional frameworks like the World Bank (WB). In addition, the inspirational public speaker has also authored and co-authored several books and publications centred on socio-economic issues.

After being introduced by Dr. Ubanesia Adams-Jack and the SPOSSA Chairperson to an Endler Hall that was about two-thirds filled with excited students, Dr. Ramphele graced the stage and opened with “Goeie middag”. Having thus humoured the anticipating crowd, Dr. Ramphele immediately engaged in the business of the day. She challenged students present to think critically about South Africa’s political trajectory with reference to participating in next year’s elections. She constantly reminded students that the 2014 elections were an opportunity for 5 million new voters to make their voices heard, providing a much needed platform for radical change within South Africa.

Dr. Ramphele was also very open, honest and somewhat comical in her criticism of the ruling party (ANC) and its cronies. Throughout her talk, she exclaimed that the current government “is destroying the economy and betraying the legacy of our past.” Furthermore, an issue Dr. Ramphele and her new political platform, Agang SA, are very serious and vocal about, is corruption. As students at Stellenbosch we are very aware of the fact that corruption has spread within the current political dispensation with impunity. However, this is not a rare or new phenomenon because corruption was rife within the apartheid state as well. Furthermore, corruption, nepotism and clientelism are visible in some of the world’s most successful countries.

Dr. Ramphele indicated that Agang SA would champion the fight against corruption, because corruption was clearly indicative of an unaccountable political system. According to Dr. Ramphele, the ruling party are not accountable to the citizenry because dominant party members and cronies see themselves as above the law. For instance, when members of the ruling party are found guilty of corruption, “they simply move on to other government positions” and state resources are abused to benefit the dominant party leaders and their friends. The latter point was clearly a reference to the Arms deal, Zuma’s Nkandla residence and the Gupta’s being accommodated at Waterkloof Military Airbase. Agang SA would start by quelling corruption internally (within the political party) by insisting that public officials be mandated to declare assets publicly; that public officials will not be allowed to conduct any business with government; and that Agang SA would lobby a petition for electoral reform (in order to stop state money being directed into party coffers).

Dr. Ramphele underscored the urgency of the situation by pointing out that millions of South Africans are being forgotten. For instance, statistically one in four South Africans are unemployed and more than half of the youth of our country are out of work. This then has a knock-on effect in creating “lost generations”, where the youth have left education without the skills for employment. Dr. Ramphele noted that South Africa has the necessary funding and resources, but that these are being squandered, with the Auditor-General reporting R33 billion misspent in the fiscal year 2011/2012. This is unacceptable after nearly 20 years of democracy. The government can only be held accountable if we as the citizenry and electorate (especially the youth) raise our expectations for the future. For instance, Dr. Ramphele stated that we must “confine the pass mark of 30% to the dustbins of history because that is where it belongs”, and that we must imagine a South Africa where the economy grew at 5% annually and unemployment was under 10%.

Dr. Ramphele’s talk at the University of Stellenbosch must also be taken in context, with Madiba’s condition “critical but stable” and the 2014 elections looming. I raise this point because she drew on the fact that the youth must rise up and take the reins like our struggle heroes of yesteryear, as well as not betraying the legacy of Madiba (which translates to: abstinence from voting only perpetuates the status quo). Furthermore, Dr. Ramphele understood her audience: learned members of society who should demand the replication of our opinions politically. South Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world where 50% of our population is under 34 years of age; hence our generation has the power to claim our freedoms while remembering that freedom comes with responsibility.

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