Mamphela Ramphele. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Mamphela Ramphele. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

BEYOND the titles of businesswoman, academic and struggle icon, as Mamphela Ramphele seeks to further her political plans, her community work and activism take equal focus.

Before embarking on a more academic path in 1984, Dr Ramphele’s community activism was well known. Following her exile to Tzaneen — in what is now Limpopo — by the apartheid government, Ms Ramphele went on to establish health centres, run soup kitchens and start economic clubs for local women. She also initiated projects to bolster education in the community.

With the end of apartheid, Dr Ramphele accepted positions on the boards of major South African companies, worked at the World Bank, and served as vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

Her recent community efforts have taken a decidedly close form to the warnings contained within the Dinokeng Scenarios — which called for active participation by citizens to bring about state accountability. The Dinokeng Scenarios were aimed at looking into SA’s future and identifying the challenges the country faced.

Ms Ramphele subsequently founded the Citizen’s Movement in April last year, as well as the health activism organisation, the Letsema Circle, in the Eastern Cape in 2011.

The Citizen’s Movement operates on the assumption that solutions to problems do exist, but that networks and platforms are required to strengthen initiatives that have had a positive effect in areas such as health, education and youth development.

The Letsema circle, according to Dr Ramphele aims to "be a pioneer path-finder that facilitates community-centred interventions in the primary health care system through the walking together approach".

The Letsema circle, with pilot projects across the Eastern Cape claims some degree of success in its "approach that encourages individuals and communities to confront their lack of self-confidence and self-respect and support one another in the healing process".

Dr Ramphele yesterday called for the promotion of "healing circles" across society to "free our souls from the fear of the unknown and dependencies on authority figures".

Dr Ramphele also remains with the Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund as an advisor, having formerly been a trustee. She also retains her position as the patron of the Ifa Lethu Foundation a Pretoria-based nonprofit organisation formed in 2005 with the intention of the repatriating apartheid-era art to SA.

According to Ifa Lethu CEO Dr Narissa Ramdhani CEO, the foundation has in the last two years branched out to development work, and has successfully trained 2,300 artists mentored by struggle-era artists.

Political analyst Allister Sparks says Ms Ramphele has been defined by the black consciousness which advocates black Africans having a sense of empowerment.

This has been seen in her efforts to "galvanise" communities, and has likely remained with her. This spirit of black consciousness of ending the culture of victimisation is likely to resonate with many parts of society, he says.