Mamphela Ramphele: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Anti-Apartheid Activist


If you’ve ever heard about Mamphela Ramphale, then you probably know that she is 65 years old, an anti-apartheid activist, a businesswoman and an academic. You also most likely know her as a partner of the legendary anti-apartheid icon Steve Biko. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more that you don’t know. Here are 10 Things You Didn’t Know about her.

Mamphela Ramphele: Biography – Profile – Facts

1. Her Mother

You probably know that Mamphela Ramphele was born to Pitsi Eliphaz and Rangoato Rahab, who were both school teachers. What you probably don’t know is that Ramphele’s mother, Rangoato Rahab was an activist in her own way. Rahab lived in a society which oppressed women. One of the oppression was through denying them the opportunity to eat meat. While all the other dishes were prepared by women, meat was prepared by men. Only after the men had eaten their full, would the left overs be given to women and children. Rahab defied this tradition! She would go to the pot where men were cooking meat, scoop out some pieces and give it to the children. Other women began emulating her, and that discriminatory tradition was kicked out of the village. Ramphale obviously learnt her first lessons in activism from her mother.

Mamphela Ramphele 1

2. Family Tragedy

Most people imagine that the greatest tragedy Ramphale faced was the death of Steve Biko in 1977. This would make sense, given the fact that she was pregnant with his child, Hlumelo Biko. However, to Ramphale, her greatest tragedy was the death of her fist born, Lerato Biko. She contracted pneumonia at just 2 months old, and died in 1974. She attributed the death to living in a country where “the health system was not responsive”. And so, she attributes her effort in promoting community health initiatives as driven to ensure that no parent experiences the pain she went through.

3. The Pioneer

Mamphela Ramphele is a pioneer on very many fronts. She is the first black woman to ever hold a Vice Chancellor position in a South African University. She is the first South African to ever be appointed as a World Bank Managing Director. Her Zenimpholo Community Health Center, founded in 1975 was one of the first health services outside the South African public sector. She was also one of the first people detained under section 10 of the Terrorism Act in 1976.

4. The 55th Greatest South African

In 2004, the South African television channel SABC compiled a list of “Top 100 Greatest South Africans of All Time”. The list was compiled through an informal poll in which the South African public participated. People sent their nominations via telephone, SMS and online on the TV website. When the list was compiled, Ramphele was number 55. Other prominent South Africans on the list were Nelson Mandela (who topped the list), Desmond Tutu, Steve Biko, songstress Brenda Fassie and 19th Century warrior king Shaka Zulu.

See Also: Top 500+ Most Popular South Africans Ever

Mamphela Ramphele party announcement

5. A Secret Lover?

Everyone knows that Mamphela was a partner to Steve Biko, and had two children with him. However, in an interview published in New Statesman on 24th, July, 2013, she revealed something quite shocking. When asked whether she has any regrets in life, she said “The biggest mistake I ever made was to marry someone while I was in love with another man”.

6. Honorary Degrees

Mamphela Ramphele is one of the most decorated women in Africa. She has received a total of 18 honorary degrees from Universities in South Africa, United States, England, The Netherlands, and many other countries. She has also received numerous awards.

7. Legion of Honor

On 28th February, Mamphela Ramphele was inducted as an Officer in the Legion of Honor. The Legion of Honor is the highest French distinction, created to honor those who exhibit the virtues and values of the French Revolution..

Mamphela Ramphele file

 8. Agang

In February 2013, Mamphela Ramphele launched Agang (Sotho word for “build”) in Pretoria. Most people take it for a political party created to challenge the ANC. She has even been accused of “preying” on the legacy of Steve Biko for her own selfish ambitions. But to Ramphele, Agang is not political party. It is “an awakening of citizens to take back our freedom, dignity, and country”.

9. Presidential Candidate

Mamphela Ramphele recently revealed that she intends to contest in the 2014 presidential elections.

10. Net Worth

Mamphela Ramphele is rumored to be worth around 55 million SA Rand (around USD 5.3 million). Her house in Camps Bay is worth R10 million (USD 970,000). Her major assets are indirect holdings. She has R30 million (USD 2.9 million) held in a family trust, and R11 million (USD 1.06 million) held in an investment trust. She is also a shareholder in a number of gold mines including Sibanye Gold and Anglo-American Gold Fields.

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