Ramphele on democracy, white supremacy and leadership
Dr Mamphela Ramphele has been co-president of the “Club of Rome” since 2018. The 73-year-old South African medical doctor and anti-apartheid activist has always been a formidable champion of human rights. She was managing director of the World Bank before founding the South African party Agang South Africa in 2013. Sven Lilienström, the founder of Faces of Democracy, spoke to Ramphele about democracy, white supremacy and about why women are better leaders.
SL: You grew up in the years of apartheid and experienced racial discrimination first hand. How important are democracy and democratic values?
MR: There is a sense in which having lived without democracy and experienced the humiliation, marginalisation and total disregard of one’s human rights and opportunities, as well as the denial of opportunities for one’s development to become the best that one can be, is a primer. It makes you appreciate democracy even more than would be the case if you grew up in a democratic state.
The post-1994 period was received with great jubilation because our struggle for freedom was a struggle to have our voices heard in choosing who represents us, how we are represented, what kind of framework our constitution should take and how the democratic dispensation will translate into a fundamental transformation of a society that had been engineered to be unequal.
SL: What memories do you have of that period of racial segregation?
MR: Our memories of the apartheid period are not just about what happened between 1948 and 1994. Because apartheid was an elaboration of a colonial process, it was about capturing the resources of a nation for use by and for the benefits of the colonists. The violence was also not just the physical violence or the material deprivation, but also the capturing of the intellectual property of the people of Africa.
For us, therefore, the wounds from all sources are still raw. We also experienced them in very personal ways. My family, for example, was forced to move from a very rich piece of land on the foot of the Soutpansberg mountains. You can’t forget these things. I also have very deep wounds from losing my fellow activists, many of whom were tortured and some of them killed, including the father of my eldest son.
SL: April 1994 saw the first democratic elections held in South Africa. Racism, however, continues to be an issue in South Africa even today. What are the reasons?
MR: I think the reasons for persistent racism is because the humiliation of racism was such a fundamental factor in colonial conquest. The humiliation of racism has caused multigenerational wounds that persist to date. Racism persists today in South Africa because part of the political settlement of 1994 was not to disrupt the patterns of capital accumulation that had engineered the inequalities that the democratic government inherited in 1994.
It’s all very well having a constitution that mandates equality, that provides in its preamble the need for healing of wounds and the fundamental transformation, so that you have socio-economic benefits going to every citizen. But to then translate that into a practical, effective programme to undo 400 years of racist discrimination and white privilege is very difficult.
The only way we can end racism in South Africa is for white people to give up their white supremacy, while we, as black people, also need to assert ourselves as the people who are heirs of the very first human civilisation on Earth.
SL: You are co-president of the “Club of Rome” and, together with Sandrine Dixson-declève, the first women to hold this position. Do women lead differently? What are your primary goals for your term of office?
MR: The Club of Rome has a proud history of having disrupted the concept of economic growth as an ever-growing big mountain that will continue to grow, by publishing “The Limits to Growth”, a 1972 Report commissioned from MIT experts.
The arguments were about the limits to the way in which human beings and human civilisation are utilising natural and other resources to drive endless economic growth. If we don’t recognise and respect those ecological limits, we shall end up with even bigger planetary crises than those already upon us.
If you look at the world today, we have multiple planetary crises. We have pandemics, climate change, and many conflicts. The way we relate to one another is not nurturing the concept of well-being for all.
With Covid, of course, we realise that well-being for a few undermines well-being for all, because Covid doesn’t respect boundaries, doesn’t respect class, doesn’t respect culture. It just continues to spread, because we, as human beings, and the world, are interconnected. Diversity brings the richness of the values of Ubuntu and other indigenous cultures to learn anew what it means to be human in the 21st Century.
Women leaders are much more able at multitasking. Just look at the countries led by women during this pandemic – they have done better, whether you are looking at Iceland, New Zealand, Finland or even regions like Scotland.
They are by far out-performing male-led countries by focusing more on well-being for all and promoting values that value life above all else. Now that doesn’t mean women are more intelligent, simply that women are wired to be much more sensitive to interconnectedness and interdependence.