Mamphela Ramphele (Part 1) – Wired for Compassion, Self-Respect & Social Justice: Birthing South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement, Becoming Who We Were Created to Be, and Finding Hope in a World That Has Lost Its Way

Mamphela Ramphele Club of Rome Black Consciousness Movement Social Justice

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, global thought leader, author, medical doctor, scholar, anti-apartheid activist, and co-founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa has lived her extraordinary life guided by the knowing that every one of us is part of an inextricably linked system, and to live life as an authentic human being means assuming responsibility for oneself, others, and the whole web of life. Here, she connects the dots for us in so many ways, telling the remarkable story of how the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa was born with the realization that accepting a second-class identity was only perpetuating apartheid, internally and externally, and right away, the group became aware they needed to bring forth practical manifestations of this new consciousness. Mamphela has worked to do exactly that—bring the values of expanded consciousness into being—her whole life, first as an anti-apartheid activist and doctor, in bimonthly meetings with Nelson Mandela when he was in prison, writing books on social-economic issues in South Africa, and later, working to manifest the values of compassion, dignity, and social justice on a global level as a managing director of the World Bank, co-president of The Club of Rome, and more.

When asked what hurts, Mamphela describes the terrible conditions in South Africa, which she explains could have been averted if post-apartheid leaders had chosen to act for the wellbeing of all rather than getting enmeshed in party politics. And what gives Mamphela hope? The hope she sees in the eyes of young people (and old), and the transformations already underway in small communities. As she says, “the world has lost its way…it’s all about having more rather than being more,” but Mamphela believes real change will happen in the next couple of decades, when our personal, professional, and political lives become framed by the same value system—the values of ubuntu, the traditional, indigenous wisdom values of Africa, which are not only Africa’s heritage but all of ours. Inspiring and enlightening, this conversation is a transmission from a vibrant elder who fully understands and puts into practice what it means to live an authentic, compassionate life, with courage, humor, integrity, and wisdom. Recorded November 9, 2023.

The majority of white people [in apartheid South Africa] were petrified of losing their privileges—in the same way we continue with business as usual today, in the face of climate change.”

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Topics & Time Stamps – Part 1

  • Introducing Mamphela Ramphele, physician, scholar, anti-apartheid activist, author, and global thought leader (01:32)
  • Growing up in a family of educators with encyclopedias & books all over the place, asking, as a young child, what makes my country so different? (03:42)
  • The day the penny dropped: as long as we call ourselves non-whites, we’re perpetuating the rule of the oppressors (06:00)
  • First came a sense of power—we can change things—then the purpose: make a world where no one is identified as a “non-something”  (08:52)
  • This also liberates white people from their superiority complex, which is a burden (10:51)
  • The system itself funded the first meeting of South African students, the founding organization of the Black Consciousness Movement (12:32)
  • The evolution of the Black Consciousness Movement: freeing mind, heart & body from mental slavery & translating the new consciousness into practical manifestations (15:02)
  • The 15 students managed to get news about the Black Power movement, Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, Malcolm X & Angela Davis (17:37)
  • The majority of white people were petrified of losing their privileges—in the same way we continue with business as usual today, in the face of climate change (19:00)
  • What did we do with the consciousness we had? Recognize we have to practice what we preach, mobilize people to restore their own dignity, and build black solidarity (21:01)
  • The Soweto uprising and the mobilization of workers, parents, faith communities (22:02)
  • The post-apartheid government failed to live up to the ideals that so many died for and how the African National Congress (ANC) tried to own Nelson Mandela (23:57)
  • In the negotiated settlement, they should have been asking how to restructure the economy, but the new ANC missed that boat and focused on politics instead (26:01) 
  • The reunification of Germany could have been a great example of lifting the downtrodden up, erasing differences and equalizing communities (28:54)
  • Asking the wrong question: who will be in power? Shortsightedness and the love of power (31:35)
  • The good news: a resurgence of young people who want fundamental transformation of South Africa, including refocusing politics on citizens as the sovereigns of democracy (36:44)
  • A fully conscious person must understand that to be human is to be relational—what’s important is to be who you were created to be, it’s not about having more (38:20)

Resources & References – Part 1

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Mamphela Ramphele Club of Rome Black Consciousness Movement

Mamphela Ramphele is a world-renowned figure with an outstanding career as an activist, medical doctor, academic, businesswoman, and political thinker. She has been co-president of the Club of Rome, is the co-founder of ReimagineSA, and Chair at the Desmond Tutu IP Trust. Previously, she served as a managing director at the World Bank and as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. Mamphela obtained a medical degree from the University of Natal in 1968, where she co-founded the Black Consciousness Movement with Steve Biko and became involved in the South African Students Association (SASO). Mamphela has received numerous national and international awards acknowledging her scholarship and leading role in promoting the empowerment of women, youth, and other oppressed people in South Africa and globally, and is the author of several books and publications on socio-economic issues in South Africa.


Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos and Show Notes by Heidi Mitchell


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