Dr Mamphela Ramphele addresses the media on her plans to form a political platform at the Women’s Gaol on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Monday. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Dr Mamphela Ramphele. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

FOR a political party that often goes cap in hand to China, Iran, Angola and, once upon a time, Libya, for money, the African National Congress (ANC) has a lot of cheek wondering aloud and in a threatening way whether Mamphela Ramphele’s new "party platform", Agang, is being supported by "foreign funds".

So what if it is? It’s who would vote for it that matters.

The reaction to her announcement last week was amazing. Anyone would think she had to come out immediately with an alternative industrial policy (mind you, given the quality of Rob Davies’s Industrial Policy Action Plan 2, which recommends we take on the Asians at building ships, devising an alternative to it shouldn’t be too difficult), have a Reserve Bank governor waiting in the wings, a "cure" for rape and violence against women and a raft of policies from the future of digital communications to regulations governing the ratio of sand to cement in rural schools.

The people doing all this demanding are, needless to say, middle-class urbanites with access to the media. They know nothing about where Ramphele is going to hunt because they never spend any time in rural South Africa, and if or when they accidentally find themselves in the middle of nowhere, they mostly can’t understand anything going on around them.

But it’s in rural South Africa that this woman has her heart. She can speak to rural women in a way no one has before, and to the men too.

To headmen and chiefs she will ask why, when the ANC has failed time and time again to deliver on its promises, will they still vote for it? And when they tell her it is because they trust the ANC, she will tell them they are thinking like children.

Idiots will be given time on radio shows to complain that she didn’t "transform" the University of Cape Town (whatever that means) when she was vice-chancellor or that she didn’t "transform" the mining industry when she was an independent director of a few companies. But none of the idiots will ever be asked if they know what she did during the struggle. That’s usually because the radio-show hosts don’t have a clue either.

She was Steve Biko’s lover; that’s about all they know. What they don’t know is how privileged Biko was to be with her. Think about rural South Africa and about how vulnerable the ANC is in the countryside outside of KwaZulu-Natal. Ramphele is from Limpopo. She also has huge traction in the Eastern Cape, where she once started a successful clinic, despite apartheid police harassment. Then think about rural women. Who speaks to them? The ANC Women’s League? Don’t make me laugh. Who will stop Ramphele going where she wants and talking to whom she wants?

And, oh, she doesn’t need a million votes. A profile of her in City Press on Sunday started with "Her Mission: To beat the ANC in next year’s national election." I doubt it somehow. Her mission is to get back to the talks she has been holding with the Democratic Alliance (DA) for a very long time, but on different terms. Only the DA has the political machine to allow the right leader to level the playing field in South Africa.

This time, when she gets back to the table with Helen Zille, it will be with a political constituency (my guess is mainly rural women, a chunk of the black middle class and not too few whites who can’t stomach the thought of voting for a party led by Jacob Zuma) behind her. She won’t be nearly as big as the DA, but she will have gotten her hands dirty and those rural women will be worth their weight in gold to a DA that just can’t get to them. You also have to bear in mind the way power shifts in rural areas. The women are strong and hold the fort, as it were, and the men are often away working. An election outside of a traditional holiday period in a rural area would be a very different proposition to one if the men were around.

Black consciousness (BC), not the ANC, was what triggered the events of 1976 and which eventually led to this country’s liberation. Now, as then, the BC people don’t whine on and on about apartheid. They freed first their minds and then themselves. While the ANC still has nothing but apartheid and the damage it did left in its political armoury, it should be more than wary of an authentic African woman. Am I a fan? You bet I am.