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Mamphela Ramphele: Alarm bells sound for Jacob Zuma and the ANC

Mamphela Ramphele
Mamphela Ramphele addresses the 19th Annual Investing in African Indaba in Cape Town on Feb. 6. (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)

South African politics are about to get a whole lot more interesting, as one of the country’s most capable women – Mamphela Ramphele – resigned as chair of South African mining house Gold Fields on Wednesday, in preparation for an announcement that she will enter politics.

The move comes just a day before beleaguered South African President Jacob Zuma is to make his annual state of the nation address and likely sent shock waves through the ANC’s corridors of power – whether they care to admit it or not.

An outspoken critic of ANC corruption and incompetence, businesswoman Ramphele is a medical doctor by training, but earned her stripes as a grassroots anti-apartheid activist. A vigorous and articulate national figure, she co-founded the trail-blazing Black Consciousness Movement of the 1970s with South Africa icon Steve Biko, who was later beaten to death by the apartheid regime. And she is an ardent advocate – like Nelson Mandela – for the fundamental importance of education.

Education has been an unqualified disaster under Zuma’s ANC.

In an impassioned speech to teachers in Cape Town last fall, Ramphele compared South Africa to a sinking ship in which the captain and crew were partying at the helm while swilling champagne.

Meanwhile, “You and I are sitting in our houses complaining,” she said. “How are we going to change this?”

She urged her audience to vote for candidates who could bring about “change” in the 2014 national elections.

Now, she intends to be one of those candidates. Whether she will create an entirely new party, or join the surging opposition Democratic Alliance, led by her friend Helen Zille, remains to be seen.

Either way, her entry can be expected to “shake up our political scene,” long time commentator Allister Sparks wrote Wednesday. If she chooses to create a new party, it will pull votes directly from the ANC camp.

 “She is a dynamic woman of action,” Sparks wrote. “It is the ANC that is brittle.”

 Ramphele is expected to make an official announcement Monday in Johannesburg.

Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller



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