/ 31 October 2013

Agang SA’s Ramphele: White people, be more active citizens

Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele.
Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

White South Africans need to be more active as citizens if they want to claim their place in the future of the country, Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele said on Thursday.

"White people need to stop thinking of themselves as white and start thinking of themselves as South Africans," she told the Mail & Guardian at the 2013 World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar.

It was risky for South Africans to think in a "you can [do this] because you are black and you can do that because you are white" way.

"If you do that … look at Zimbabwe. Mugabe, here we come".

"We have the power to remove this government that has failed on every key performance area. The economy has failed. Education has failed. Health has failed. Safety and security is a joke, " she said.

Ramphele said white people were "as entitled as I am not to tolerate anybody disempowering you … it is tolerance of abuse that empowers the abuser".

She referenced black consciousness leader and anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who said the most powerful tool in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

"White people are making themselves into victims instead of claiming their citizenship and challenging Malema or whoever … to say 'we are going nowhere, this is our country, we are going to contribute and stay'".

But to claim their place, white South Africans "need to work for it".

"Active citizenship is a commitment."

Ramphele said that South Africa is a constitutional democracy so "every vote counts and your voice counts as much as mine".

People who said white South Africans do not have a place in South Africa "are the most ill-informed of all of them", she said.

"Just look at the things people say to me … That I don't know how to speak to poor people. How do they know where I come from?"

But, she added, many white South Africans did not participate in the liberation struggle yet they still "enjoy the fruits of liberation", and now they needed to "stop being on the side lines".

Going through a period of guilt and shame, like Germans did after the holocaust, is not the answer to our problems now either, she said.

"They [white people] went through that already with the truth and reconciliation commission. Guilt and shame will not build the education and health systems we need – active citizenship will," she said.