On 16 February 2018 newly elected president of South Africa, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, rose in parliament to deliver his inaugural State of the Nation address.
It was just two days after he had disposed of the ruinous president Jacob Zuma. It was less than two months since he had triumphed over party rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to claim the presidency of the African National Congress in Nasrec, Johannesburg. The ANC has been the ruling in South Africa since the dawn of democracy in 1994. By the time Ramaphosa rose to speak, South Africa had experienced nine years of destructive and devastating rule by Jacob Zuma. To give hope to the broken nation, Ramaphosa, in his New Dawn delivery, invoked the lyrics of a song by struggle and music icon Hugh Masekela called Thuma Mina or Send Me, in a desperate but brilliant effort to galvanize all the South Africans to action to reverse the negative effects of the excesses of the Zuma presidency.
Ramaphosa’s speech was a hybrid of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and JF Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He called it the New Dawn. The speech inspired the nation as the new president called upon all South Africans, irrespective of race, colour, creed, religion and political affiliation to join hands in a common national crusade to fix the broken nation. When he quoted the socially profound Masekela’s Thuma Mina, even the red berets, led by CIC Julius Malema, rose to applaud the new president. He had struck the right chord with the nation and Thuma Mina instantaneously forced its way into the social and political lexicon of the rainbow nation. The president had inspired the nation and South Africans of all hues were ready to serve. Hugh Masekela was immortalized.
On 18 May 2018, Ramaphosa extinguished all the national and patriotic fires he had lit in February. In Tembisa, Johannesburg, he surrendered his noble and unifying Thuma Mina vision to Fikile Mbalula, the ANC’s election guru, and betrayed his state of the nation promise. Reacting to this national betrayal, Férial Hafajee wrote after the launch of the party political Thuma Mina launch in Tembisa:
“The ANC is no longer a movement of the people but a governing party with a great
history and a checkered present. Ramaphosa should have kept Thuma Mina as a
campaign of his presidency.”
I agree with Hafajee. It appears as though Ramaphosa has capitulated to the populist short term election demands of his party. The great and noble nation building project has been sacrificed on the altar of a partisan election campaign. This is another negative consequences of Nasrec. The narrow victory of Ramaphosa over Dlamini-Zuma is proving costly for both the ANC and the country. It is indeed the height of irony that because of factionalism in the ANC, Ramaphosa is being thwarted by his own party from providing the kind of leadership that South Africa so dearly cries for. Instead of using the exceptional strengths and abilities of Ramaphosa, the other faction in the party is hellbent on undermining his authority to pursue a dead pro-Zuma legacy. The shenanigans of a certain Supra Mahumapelo in North West is a case in point. During the Mandela or Mbeki presidency, the circus that is playing itself out in North West would not have been countenanced. It is precisely one resolution of the historic 2007 Polokwane conference that has led to the current crisis in the ruling party. The president of the country is incapacitated to act decisively when some province goes astray. Talk of a united South Africa.
Though it is unclear, it appears as though Mbalula and his election team were given the task of, among others, producing a catchy campaign phrase or slogan to galvanize the ANC volunteers and the electorate in the election campign for 2019. With no imagination to craft a mobilizing catch phrase, they fell back on Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address masterpiece, Thuma Mina. There is no doubt that the president is frustrated by this hijacking of a non-partisan national call for all South Africans to go that extra mile to lift the country out of its current state of despair. Now, Ramaphosa’s Kennedian moment has been stolen by the intellectually lazy leading the ANC’s 2019 election campaign. The man who would have succeeded Mandela as president and father of the current constitution of the republic has sheepishly surrendered his legacy to the lackadaisical and politically bankrupt ANC campaign. This is really sad.
President Ramaphosa, constitutionally the leader of all 56 million South Africans, needs to go back to parliament and apologise. He will have to apologize for misleading parliament and the nation by making that clarion for all South Africans “to be there when the people start to turn it around; when they triumph over poverty; when they win the battle against AIDS…” because that call now only belongs to the ANC. Of course, the red berets and blue shirts will not allow him to get away with this betrayal without scoring some cheap political points in parliament next time he visits that house.
The African National Congress is entering a stage of acceleretaed decline and in its frustration, caused by lack of imagination from its current leadership, has the right to appropriate Thuma Mina for itself for two reasons. Firstly, Hugh Masekela, the struggle music icon, is a product of struggle in which the ANC was the foremost liberation movement in South Africa; the ANC can therefore claim to have contributed to Masekela’s social and political perspectives that formed his music. Masekela, it can be argued, was the product of the ANC. So, Thuma Mina rightly belongs to the ruling party.
Secondly, Cyril Ramaphosa would not have had the opportunity to rise in parliament and deliver the state of the Nation address he did on 16 February had he not been the ANC president. It was less than two months after he had been crowned president of the ruling party which ultimately led to the fall of the Jacob Zuma as country president and his ascension to power to that position. It can be argued that Ramaphosa is the intellectual property of the ANC rather than that of the nation. Ramaphosa replaced Zuma at the behest of the party and therefore Ramaphosa is private property of the ANC. His Thuma Mina, although meant for all the people of South Africa, is, in their view, the ruling party’s IP and Luthuli House holds the rights.
While I agonize about Ramaphosa’s missed opportunity to become a truly significant historical figure through Thuma Mina, I understand that all political parties in the world are opportunistic and the ANC is no exception. Realising that Thuma Mina resonates with the people, the people’s movement is hanging onto this mantra that has the potential to raise its declining electoral performance in next year’s election. For this I give credit to Mr Razzmatazz for seeing an opportunity and seizing it with both hands and rushing to Tembisa to launch, in Razzmatazz style, a noisy and potentially victorious election campaign facing the embattled organisation. He has got a job to do and Ramaphosa’s dreams of a united nation working together with other parties and civil society for the common good is not on Mbalula’s agenda. Mbalula has to impress and deliver for the ANC so that he can return to his blue lights and twitter when Ramaphosa assembles his real first cabinet next year. This is politics.
As for the people of South Africa, Mr President, what you unleashed in parliament at your first State of the Nation address cannot and will not be reversed. Thousands, perhaps millions, are ready to serve the nation for the sake of the people and not for the ANC. The goodwill of the strong and their readiness to selflessly serve the weak, the vulnerable, the sick and the poor is no longer the preserve of you and your party; it is the patriotic aspirations of the nation itself. The people of South Africa want change in the economy, in education, in health, in the justice system, in sport and every aspect of their lives. Thuma Mina has the potential to mobilise the entire nation to bring about change in our beloved country. “Ziyo jika izinto,thula mntwanami.”
In conclusion, it still a matter of speculation as to how Ramaphosa made the U-turn from pursuing a noble, nation-building programme of Thuma Mina to what he is now doing. Some of us who hold the president in high esteem are disappointed as we know that he understands that the national interest interest supersedes the party political interest. I suspect that the other faction in his party that he leads by the smallest of margins has once again prevailed. The ghost of Nasrec continues to haunt an otherwise capable and visionary president. However, Ramaphosa must realise that his lack of courage on strategic issues like Thuma Mina is going to ultimately cost him and our country a lot. How many non-ANC South Africans who had pledged to follow him all the way to the end of the world in his Thuma Mina train will refuse to get on board? Is he prepared to rise above the archaic thinking of Jacob Zuma and put the interests of the nation before the interests of his weak, divided and declining party? I hope that he learns from this historic mistake and that after leading the ruling party to victory in the 2019 elections he will be his own man, find his own voice and provide the kind of leadership that this embattled and broken requires.
Sello Lediga is a social commentator, author
and founder of the independent Thuma Mina Movement(www.thumaminamovement.co.za)