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Biography of Mamphela RAMPHELE

South Africa > Science : Mamphela RAMPHELE

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Born on 28/12/1947 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Dr Mamphela Aletta  Ramphele ( born on 28 December 1947), is a South African medical doctor and anthropologist specialised in problems concerning social development. She was an anti-apartheid activist and was one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), along with Steve Biko.
She is Executive chairperson , Circle Capital ventures, a venture capital black economic empowerment company in Cape Town (South Africa). She is currently a board member of the Rockefeller Foundation .

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele's  resume is pretty impressive. An activist and author, Ramphele has earned several degrees, including a medical degree, two post-graduate diplomas, a Bachelor's of Commerce in Administration, and a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology. She founded two health centers for the poor and became an expert in community development. In addition, she has served on the boards of numerous corporations, received 10 honorary degrees from international universities, and assumed the highest post at a prestigious university. In 2000 Ramphele was appointed senior director of the World Bank. Given that Ramphele was born poor, black, and female in apartheid South Africa, where as she recalled in her autobiography, Across Boundaries, one white teacher often reminded her "you were born to work for [whites]," these accomplishments, though admirable in their own right, are nothing less than awe-inspiring.
Mamphela Aletta Ramphele was born December 28, 1947, in a rural part of the Northern Province of South Africa. Her mother, Rangoato Rahab, and her father, Pitsi Eliphaz, were both schoolteachers. Despite the size of their family, which included seven children, the extreme poverty of their village, and the racial discrimination that characterized apartheid South Africa, Ramphele's life was relatively privileged due to her parents' education and their roles as teachers. Instead of a mud floor hut, they had a brick structure to live in, however they still had to share an outdoor toilet with the rest of the village and travel miles by mule to visit relatives. In spite of these difficult realities, Ramphele's parents were proud, intelligent, and hard-working--traits Ramphele inherited.

As it neared time for her to move onto secondary training, she decided to pursue medicine. It was an outrageous choice. There were very few white female doctors, even fewer black ones. The white minister that oversaw her village scoffed at her choice, noting that even his daughter couldn't become a doctor. Her parents, not happy with her choice, nonetheless supported her. She recalled in the Dallas Morning News, "It was not the desire to serve which influenced my career choice, but the passion for freedom to be my own mistress in a society in which being black and woman defined the boundaries within one could legitimately operate." Ramphele was accepted at Natal Medical School in 1967. This accomplishment was darkened by the death of her father in the same year.

From Rural Roots to Radical Realizations

Ramphele began medical school as an eager country girl with dreams of freedom for herself. Soon after encountering the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), centered at Natal University and led by the charismatic Steve Biko, a political activist was born. BCM, as Ramphele described it to the Los Angeles Times, "was a movement intended to enable black people to assert themselves in a political environment in which being black meant being inferior." It was a radical new way of thinking. Still, she felt she had to push even further. She began smoking and drinking, donned micro shorts called "hot pants," and stood up to anyone who challenged her. In response to critics of her defiant behavior, she wrote in her autobiography, "As a woman, an African woman at that, one had to be outrageous to be heard, let alone taken seriously."
 In 1972, she graduated from medical school.
As she became more involved in the BCM, she also fell in love with Steve Biko. However, she married an old boyfriend on a holiday break from school. Her marriage was a mistake and ended barely a year later. It was too late for her and Biko though. In light of her own marriage, he, in turn, married another. Still their affair continued and in May of 1974, she bore his child, a girl named Lerato, which means "love." Tragically the baby died at two months.Their son, "Hlumelo Biko" which name means "shoot from a fallen branch", was born in 1978, after Biko's death.

In 1973 the Nationalist government had banned the top leaders of the BCM, including Biko. Banning was a psychologically-trying form of punishment that required the banned person to retreat to a distant geographical zone. The banned person was not allowed to associate with more than one person at a time and was subjected to constant surveillance and harassment by the police.

Due to her political activities, she was internally banished by the apartheid government to the town of Tzaneen from 1977 to 1984.

During this time Ramphele founded another medical clinic and installed more development projects including a literacy project and a day-care center. She also completed her Bachelor of Commerce degree, and earned postgraduate diplomas in Tropical Hygiene and Health in 1981 and Public Health in 1982. She also briefly married and bore another son, Malusi

In 1984 Ramphele's ban was lifted. She was free to go where she wished. She headed to Cape Town. In 1986 she became a Research Fellow at the University of Cape Town and discovered Anthropology. Academic success came quickly. She was awarded a Carnegie Distinguished International Fellowship at the Bunting Institute of Radcliff College in 1989 and spent a semester in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That same year, she and Francis Wilson published Uprooting Poverty: the South African Challenge. The book is considered the definitive study of the socio-economic problems plaguing post-apartheid South Africa.

She received a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology in 1992 and the same year was appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University. Her job was to take charge of the Equal Opportunity Policy of the University. After over twenty years as a radical activist in the Black Consciousness Movement, encouraging black South Africans to develop self-confidence and learn not to rely on the government, she found herself in the position of making sure that the opportunities were there for them, without just handing them over. She told South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian, "[The black students] thought, here's our mum coming to solve problems and look after us. But I'm not the mothering type. When students came crying to me with their problems I didn't accept them unconditionally. I pushed them. I challenged them. I wouldn't let them use [the university's] racism as an excuse for not performing." Her actions caused some of the black students to think of her as just another part of the system. It also gained her a lot of respect, prompting the Daily Mail and Guardian to describe her as, "...fearless and hyper- confident, intellectually razor-sharp, and refreshingly independent-minded in a world full of hacks."

In 1996 Ramphele was promoted to Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, a position equivalent to president of an American university. Not only was she the first Black African to serve as Vice Chancellor, but she was also the first woman. The significance of her appointment to an emerging South Africa cannot be underestimated. As Vice Chancellor, she maintained her focus on developing equity among the students, not just affirmative action. "We're not simply going to affirm people because they happen to be black. The difficulty is how one helps young people coming from this divided past to see themselves as South Africans and to celebrate the diversity that they bring to the University of Cape Town".

Ramphele made yet another historic move in 2000, becoming the highest ranking African member of the World Bank, with her appointment as the managing director for human development. Responsible for third world development in education, health, nutrition, population, and social protection, she was in a position to put into practice policies that could help liberate oppressed peoples throughout the world. Despite the massive complexity of her task, her philosophy was simple. "I still believe the best way to distribute wealth is to educate the populace....Our people must believe we can be a great country. Nothing undermines a people like the expectation of failure," she told The Dallas Morning News. As she told PBS, "Liberating [myself] psychologically from that trap [of black inferiority], there was no stopping me. I was really transcend the constraints that kept people down." As senior director of the World Bank, Ramphelle has been granted an opportunity to provide that same liberation for some of the millions of people that face poverty, oppression, violence, and despair in the world today.

She has received numerous prestigious national and international awards, including three honorary doctorates, acknowledging her scholarship, service to the community, and her leading role in raising development issues and spearheading projects aimed at the upliftment of the most disadvantaged sectors of the community in South Africa.
Selected Works.
1996:Accross Boundaries : The Journey of a South African Woman Leader
1995: Author of Mamphela Ramphele - A Life (Cape Town: David Philip).
1993: Author of A Bed called Home (Cape Town: David Philip) (from her PhD thesis in Social Anthropology The Politics of Space) on life in the migrant labour hostels in Cape Town.
1992: Editor of Restoring the Land (Panos) on ecological challenges facing post-apartheid South Africa. 1991: Co-editor of Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Biko (Zed Books).
1989: Collaborator with Francis Wilson of UCT in Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge (W.W. Norton & Co) which draws together research conducted by the Second Carnegie Inquiry into Poverty and Development in South Africa. For their achievement, the authors received the 1990 Noma Award, an annual prize given to African writers and scholars whose work is published in Africa.


Last update : 05/10/2012

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