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Position:Book review

A Passion for Freedom

By Mamphela Ramphele

ZAR250 Tafelberg (SA)

ISBN: 978-0-624-06507-4

At the end of January, a shock announcement by the leader of South Africa's Democratic Alliance (DA) party, Helen Zille, said that Mamphela Ramphele -- who leads the Agang SA parry -- had agreed to stand as the DA's presidential candidate.

Elements within the DA and Agang SA made it perfectly clear that they were none too happy with this development. It was, after all, an extraordinary proposal that the leader of one opposition party should stand as the presidential candidate of another opposition party.

In early February, five days after the 'agreement' had been announced, the deal was called off with Zille accusing Ramphele of reneging on the accord - specifically, refusing to formally join the DA party. Zille and Ramphe-laeboth declare they share a close personal friendship; but it was difficult to understand what had transpired - and Zille's statement about the matter was contained barely concealed fury.

Nevertheless, Ramphele is a formidable political figure, and also much more: a medical doctor, author, academic and business leader. This unfortunate episode only provides added piquancy to this, her autobiography. It is rich in detail and correlates strongly with the history of South Africa's liberation struggle. But the book's opening chapters tells a far more intimate story of childhood and growing up in a rural village in Limpopo.

Ramphele tells us in her preface that she was originally inspired to tell her life story by Albertina Sisulu, who is quoted as saying in the book The Spirit of Hope: "We are required to walk our own road - and then stop, assess what we have learned and share it with others. It is only in this way that the next generation can learn from those who have walked before them ... we can do no more than tell a story. They must do with it what they will."

Political sensibilities were stirred from a young age with the influence of family members. One uncle, Solly Mogomotsi, was an African Congress Member and had been a member of the South African Communist Party before it was banned in 1950. An aunt's husband had been detained under the 90-day rule, and her elder sister Mashadi was expelled from high school for participating in a demonstration against the celebrations of South Africa becoming a republic in 1961.

But politics was always discussed in hushed tones, a symptom of the times - as was Ramphele's father's dilemma. As she...

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