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Mamphela Ramphele – Biography And History Of An Anti-Apartheid Activist

Mamphela Ramphele

Mamphela Ramphele is a South African medical doctor, politician, anti-apartheid activist, academic and businesswoman. She was the former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town, 1996, and the former Managing Director of World Bank 2000-2004.

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She founded a political party, Anang SA in 2013, announced her interest in becoming the South African first female President in 2014 under Democratic Alliance (DA). However, she retired from politics the same year.

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Also, she was one of Forbes’ Africa’s Richest Women in 2011. She is known for her activism efforts for the rights of black South Africans and her fight against South Africa’s discriminatory policies of apartheid.

See Also: Aya Chebbi – Biography Of An Award-Winning Pan African Feminist And Activist

Mamaphela Ramphele Background

Mamaphela Aletta Ramphele was born on 28 December 1947 in Bochum District, Northern Transvaal now Limpopo. She was born as the third child to two primary school teachers.

Her parents Pitsi Eliphaz (father) and Rangoato Rehab (mother) were both primary school teachers who encouraged her to excel in her academics.

For her education, she began at the G.H Frantz Secondary School, then Bethesda Boarding School. Subsequently, in 1966, she attended the Setotolwane High School. Thereafter, she enrolled for a pre-medical course at the University of the North in 1967.

Then, in 1968, she was admitted into the University of Natal Medical School where she earned her Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) in 1972.

Also, in 1983 she bagged a B.Comm. in Administration from the University of South Africa. In addition, she earned Diplomas in Tropical Health & Health & Hygiene and Public Health from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Furthermore, she received a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Cape Town in 1991.

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Mamphela Ramphele Personal Life

During the time when Ramphele was highly involved in student politics and anti-apartheid activism, she met late Steve Biko who was also an activist.

Together they had an affair and gave birth to two children, Lerato and Hlumelo born in 1974 and 1978 respectively.

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Mamphela Ramphele Early career

After receiving her medical degree in 1972, she began her medical internship at Durban’s King Edward VIII Hospital. Later on, transferred to Livingstone Hospital, Port Elizabeth.

While in school, Ramphele got involved in activism and experienced political transformation. She met Steve Biko and other student activists at the Medical School and became a member of the South African Student’s Organisation (SASO) founded by Biko in 1969.

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Go from idea to starting your business in 30 days

There, she worked on community initiatives to improve the lives of black South Africans. Later on, she was elected the Chairperson of the local SASO branch. In 1974, she was charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for being in possession of banned literature.

Besides, she was also one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement led by Biko. The Movement espoused the rights of black South Africans, preached black unity and self-reliance and rejected the discriminatory policies of apartheid.

Under this movement, together with Biko, they achieved a huge success which later led to Biko’s banishment and murder in 1977 by the apartheid government. Also, in 1976, Mamphela Ramphele was detained for Terrorism Act and banned the following year.

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Mumphela Ramphele

Further Career in Activism

While in Black Consciousness Movement, she founded the Zanempilo Community Health Care in 1975. There, she combined her medical skills with activism. The Centre became one of the first primary health care initiatives outside the public sector in South Africa.

Eventually, she became the director of the Black Community Programmes, a wing of the Black Consciousness Movement taking over from Biko. This time, she became focused, disciplined and more goal-oriented.  

In April 1977, she was issued with banning orders to Tzaneen, Northern Transvaal, where she remained for seven years. Within the years, she established the Isutheng Community Health Program, with monetary aid from the BCP.

The foundation was used to empower local women and aid them in growing vegetable gardens, amongst other initiatives. Also, during that time, she completed three degrees, launched a day-center, a literary project, and a communal vegetable garden.

Then, in 1984 after the banning order was lifted, she left Lenyenye for Cape Town. From there, she began to transition from medicine and activism to a career in academia.

Next, she took an appointment at the University of Cape Town (UCT) through Francis Wilson’s help, a Professor of Economics. There she began to work as a Research Fellow at the South African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU).

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In 2013, Ramphele expressed interest to return to South African politics and resigned as the chairperson of Gold Fields. Same year, she founded Agang SA (a political party meaning ‘Build South Africa’ in Sesotho Language). Anang SA centered on a corruption free government and freedom for all thereby challenging the ANC party.

Then, on January 28, 2014, she accepted an invitation as the presidential candidate for Democratic Alliance in the 2014 general election but backed out a few days after. Eventually, her organisation Agang SA won two seats in the National Assembly of South Africa but did not win any seats in provincial legislatures.

However, internal conflicts over leadership and financial issues soon set in. So, on July 8, 2014, she stepped down as the leader of Agang SA and announced her withdrawal from politics. She stated, she would continue to advocate for change and progress as a member of civil society.

See Also: Raymond Ackerman – Biography And Life Of A Successful Businessman

Mamphela Ramphele Books

She has authored and edited several books. Some of it include;

  • Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge; with Francis Wilson, 1989
  • Across Boundaries: The Journey of a South African Woman Leader, 1999
  • Steering by the Stars: Being Young in South Africa, 2002
  • Laying Ghosts to Rest: Dilemmas of the Transformation in South Africa, 2008
  • Conversations with My Sons and Daughters, 2012
  • Socio-Economic Equality and Democratic Freedom in South Africa, 2013
  • A Passion for Freedom: My Life, 2014
  • Dreams, Betrayal and Hope, 2017

See Also: Michiel Le Roux – Biography Of A Billionaire And The Founder Of Capitec Bank

Mumphela Ramphele

Other Positions

After the banning years elapsed, Mamphela joined the University of Cape Town as a research fellow with the South African Labour and Development Research Unit in 1986. Later on, she was appointed one of its Deputy Vice-Chancellors in 1991. The same year, she earned a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology.

Then, she was appointed the Vice-Chancellor in September 1996, becoming the first black African and the first woman to hold such position at the South African University.

Other positions are;

  • Visiting Scholar, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachussets, USA, 1994
  • Managing Director of World Bank, 2000 – 2004
  • Trustee, Nelson Mandela Foundation
  • Board Member, Women Strong International
  • Director, The Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa (IDASA)
  • Former Fellow of the Bunting Institute (now Radcliffe)
  • Honorary Member of the Alpha and Iota chapter of Phi Betta Kappa at Radcliffe and Harvard Colleges
  • Board Member of the Anglo-American Corporation
  • Board of Trustees, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Non-Executive Director, Medi Clinic Holdings and Transnet
  • Trustee, The Link SA fund
  • Board of Trustees, Mo Ibrahim Foundation
  • Founder, Open Society Foundation
  • Co-founder, Reimagine SA
  • Board of Trustee, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
  • Co-president, The Club of Rome, 2018.

See Also: Nicky Oppenheimer – Biography Of The Third Richest Man In Africa

Awards And Recognition

Mamphela Ramphele has received several awards and honorary degrees. Some of which include;

  • South African Jewish Women’s Association Scholarship, 1968
  • Sir Ernest Oppenheimer Bursary Worth about R150 annually for the rest of her years at Medical School.
  • Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, Hunter College of the City University of New York, 1984
  • Noma Award, 1990
  • Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Tufts University, 1991
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree, International School of Social Studies, 1997
  • Doctor of Law, University of Cambridge, 2001
  • Honorary Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Natal
  • Medal of Distinction, Barnard College
  • Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, New York University, 2007
  • Order of Simon of Cyrene, 2010
  • Officer of the Legion of Honor, France
  • Voted 55 in the Top 100 Great South Africans, 2004
  • One of the Richest Women in Africa, Forbes 2011

See Also: Thuli Madonsela – Biography And Awards Of A Renowned South African Advocate

Mamphela Ramphele Quotes

“Attitudes toward other creatures is conditioned by one’s level of security within the universe.”

“South Africa does not have a poverty problem. Poverty is a result of denialism of the way corruption taxes poor people, the inefficiencies that undermine poor people’s opportunities and our refusal to admit that we are part of the problem.”

“The double jeopardy of being black and female in a racist and sexist society may well make one less afraid of the sanctions against success. A non-subservient black woman is by definition a transgressive – she is the ultimate outsider.”

“I’m doing what I’m doing because I believe in human dignity, equality and freedom. I cannot be free if my fellow human beings are not free.”

“You must model what you preach if you’re to be credible.”

“The best must always get better… You feel good when you stretch yourself.”

“What distinguishes human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom is the sense of being connected to others.”

“Overcoming authoritarianism starts with recognizing it. The attitude that those in authority are to be respected to the point of not daring to question their behavior, even when it involves wrong-doing, needs to be changed.”

See Also: Wendy Appelbaum – Biography Of A Successful South African Business Woman And Philanthropist

Lessons From Mamphela Ramphele


As a poor black South African woman, Ramphele moved beyond boundaries. Instead of allowing her gender and background affect her vision, she recounted how she became bold and fearless just to be heard. Also, her independence, self-confidence and goal-driven abilities helped her succeed.

Aside from that, she learned to question orders, learned new things and tried to set a remarkable example of success and courage for South African women.

See Also: Proven Way To Validate Your Business Idea With Customers

Face Your Fears

To be successful, you need to be tenacious and unstoppable. Despite the killings of Ramphele’s lover, Biko, and other friends and families, she resolved to still pursue the fight. According to her, “The more we were exposed to the brutality of the system, and for me personally when they started killing my friends, [then] I lost all fear.”

When we move beyond our fears, there is nothing we cannot achieve. That is the same principle that should drive entrepreneurs. Always learn to face your fears.

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