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Mamphela Ramphele; The Strength of a Woman and of a People

Mamphela Ramphele

She was born 28 December, 1947, but do not be too quick to dismiss her as not relevant to this new breed generation; indeed a lifetime of tenacity, fearlessness and diligent labour is a source of instruction for all generations.

Born in a time of strife, fear and racism, reminiscent of ‘Nightfall in Soweto,’ Dr Mamphela Ramphele is a South African Activist, Author, Politician, Medical Doctor, former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town and a one-time Managing Director at the World Bank.

For someone who could hardly afford an education in addition to the restrictions due to apartheid, Dr Mamphela Ramphele must have felt quite gratified as she donned the academic apparel of a Vice Chancellor several decades later; but I get ahead of myself.

The daughter of teachers, Dr Mamphela completed her schooling at Setotolwane High School in 1966 and subsequently enrolled for pre-medical courses at the University of the North. In 1968, she was accepted into the University of Natal Medical School, which had the singular distinction of being the only institution that allowed black students to enrol without prior permission from the apartheid government.


Her educational expenses were offset by the 1968 South African Jewish Women’s Association Scholarship and the Sir Ernest Oppenheimer Bursary worth about R150 annually. Dr Mamphela received her qualification in medicine in 1972 and began her medical internship at Durban’s King Edward VIII Hospital, later transferring to Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth.

One might wonder how she found the time to read given her involvement with student politics, anti-apartheid activism and Community Development Programmes- which seemed to be her particular passion.

In 1975, she founded the Zanempilo Community Health Centre in Zinyoka, a village outside King William’s Town; one of the first primary health care initiatives outside the public sector in South Africa whilst concurrently serving as the Manager of the Eastern Cape branch of the Black Community Health Programme.


Even whilst on exile for her political views and activism, she was relentless in her desire to build people and communities, subsequently establishing the Isutheng Community Health Program which was used to empower local women, and aid them in growing vegetable gardens, amongst other initiatives.

Ever the academic, and in the face of all odds,  she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Tropical Hygiene and a Diploma in Public Health at the University of Witwatersrand. Fast-forward to 1996, and Dr Mamphela makes history by becoming the first black woman to hold the position of a Vice-Chancellor at a South African university!

And don’t think this super nova lady has just buried her head in the sand because she is 66; in 2013, she founded a political party, and was listed as a presidential hopeful for South Africa’s 2014 presidential elections; although she has nowresigned from party politics, hope is not lost that one day a phenomenal black woman will set a new record in the South African political arena.

Amongst Dr Ramphela’s present day accomplishment includes serving on the board of mining conglomerate, Anglo-America, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. In 2011, Ramphele was named as one of Forbes’ Most Powerful African Women. Amid other awards and honorary entitlements, she was also conferred with the Officer of the Legion of Honour, the highest decoration in France.


Remember I mentioned that she is an Author? Her bibliography includes:

Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge, published in 1989 with a Co-author and recipient of the 1990 Noma Award, an annual prize given to African writers and scholars whose work is published in Africa.

A Bed called Home, 1993; Mamphela Ramphele – A Life, 1995; Across Boundaries: The Journey of a South African Woman Leader, 1996; Steering by the Stars: Being young in South Africa, 2004; and Laying Ghosts to Rest: Dilemmas of the transformation in South Africa, published in 2008.

To watch her interview with AlJazeera English in discussion with Malawian President, Joyce Banda, go here.

With a net worth of 55 million rand from years of service in medical and corporate spheres including Chairperson | Goldfields Limited -Mining, Energy and Natural Resources, Director | Business Partners Limited, Director | Standard Bank Group Ltd and Director | Mediclinic International, Dr Mamphele’s versatility, adaptability and of course prudence is underscored.

Even now, she faces adversity and criticism because of her stint in politics, but I doubt she would be who she is or where she is if she let that deter her in times past; and neither should you!

Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya
Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya
5 Things You Didn't Know About Jennifer in 2015: 1. Her newest collection of short stories, 'The Curious Case of the Small Pikin & Other Stories' is available on 2. She ported from Blogger to WordPress and shares her uncensored thoughts on 3. She is an aspiring Filmmaker & Talk-show Host[ess] 4. She's a mother of two, wife of one and daughter of God. 5. She plans to travel around the world in less than 80 days... Now you Know! Find me on Twitter: @jennynkem

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