A few good whites: Will civil society take Dr Ramphele back?

Ramphele’s assumption that she will be accepted into civil society, where she can continue her project of ‘active citizenship’ without having to be directly accountable to a real live constituency, speaks volumes. The good doctor is not wrong in this regard. Sadly, many civil society groups will accept her because the sector is not yet robust enough, not yet racially secure enough to tell prominent blacks (and whites) where to get off when they mess up.

When Dr Ramphele announced that she was quitting politics to go ‘back’ to civil society she said her motivation was a desire to “return to working alongside my fellow citizens in civil society to pursue the dream of transforming ours into a more just and prosperous society.”

While her reputation is certainly tarnished by the strange leadership choices she made in her brief (but now dead) political career and by her disdain for consultation and constituency-building, Ramphele will have no difficulty finding a few think tanks and policy groups to work with. These organisations will ask Ramphele to join their boards and participate in their forums and dialogues; they will seek her counsel and support her travel overseas to talk about the state of democracy in South Africa.

While this is to be expected, I must admit to some disquiet about what it says about the world of elite NGOs in which she is likely to find succour. In many ways, Dr. Ramphele’s acceptance in civil society will be less about a resounding endorsement of her leadership abilities than it will be about the credibility crisis that ails the sector as a whole…

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