Prof. Mamphela Ramphele was born on 28th December 1947 near Pietersburg, in what is now called Polokwane in Limpopo Province, South Africa. She qualified as a medical doctor in 1972 from the University of Natal, received a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Cape Town, a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Administration from the University of South Africa and diplomas in Tropical Health and Hygiene and Public Health from the University of Witwatersrand. Her career spans a wide spectrum - doctor, civil rights leader, community development worker, academic researcher, university administrator - and she has served on many boards of major corporations and NGOs.
Prof. Ramphele started her career as a student activist against apartheid in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) where she was a founder member alongside Steve Biko. She joined the University of Cape Town as a research fellow in 1986 and rose to become its first black woman Vice Chancellor in 1996. In 2000, she was the first South African to become one of the four Managing Directors of the World Bank where her task was to oversee the strategic positioning and operations at the World Bank institute, as well as vice presidency of External Affairs. She served as a trustee to the Nelson Mandela’s children’s fund and The Link SA fund for underprivileged students, was director of Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) and a board member of the Anglo American Corporation and Transnet. In 2004, Prof. Ramphele was voted 55th among the top 100 great South Africans.
Ramphele has received eighteen honorary degrees and numerous awards, including:
- An Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Hunter College of the City University of New York in 1984.
- An Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Tufts University in May 1991.
- An Honorary Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Natal.
- The Medal of Distinction from Barnard College in the United States.
- Ramphele is also a former fellow of the Bunting Institute and was elected as an honorary member of the Alpha and Iota chapters of Phi Beta Kappa at Radcliffe and Harvard Colleges.
- An Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from New York University in May 2007
- Honorary fellow of the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. Public lecture delivered on 24 September 1998: The politics of institutional diversity in South African higher education: tension between equity and excellence.