Even before he completed his inaugural State of the Nation address, it was clear that a new dawn was descending upon embattled South Africa.
The highlight of the speech was when newly elected president Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa repeated the lyrics of a song by music and struggle icon Hugh Masekela called “Thuma Mina”or “Send Me.” Even the hostile red benches of the EFF found themselves on their feet applauding, arguably, the greatest parliamentary speech since Thabo Mbeki delivered the “I am an African” speech 22 years ago.
Having disposed of the compromised and ruinous president Jacob Zuma just two days ago, Ramaphosa’s message was simple – South Africa was making a clean break with its sordid past as it entered a new era of renewal and nation building, a “new dawn,” he likes to call it. At the end of this refreshing state of the nation address, Ramaphosa had stamped his authority on the consciousness of the South African nation. Even the opposition found it difficult not to applaud the new head of the South African state who seemed to have a plan to save the embattled nation.
A few days after this address, Ramaphosa was on the warpath that culminated in the axing of ten of Zuma’s discredited and compromised ministers; soon thereafter, the former trade union leader cleansed the national revenue service by firing its Commissioner, Tom Moyane, a close ally of the fallen Jacob Zuma. Whether you like him or not, Ramaphosa is a competent and courageous leader who takes his time before acting. When early in February everyone was recklessly and impatiently calling on the ANC NEC to recall Zuma, Ramaphosa calmed everyone down, gave Zuma a chance and when the discredited president turned arrogant, the Buffalo struck and the next thing Zuma was seen on television as a pathetic sight, ranting and raving before surrendering to the clever antics of the new leader of the ruling party.
Ramaphosa understands very well that his dream of a new dawn will evaporate if he does not win the confidence of the people of South Africa. Thuma Mina gives him a rare opportunity to position himself as the true leader of all the people of South Africa irrespective of political affiliation; a Mandela figure that rises beyond the narrow confines of a political party. It is critically important that all South Africans rally behind a patriotic president who inspires the entire nation and is not always associated with his political party. Ramaphosa must understand that the country comes before the ANC, a clear departure from the shallow thinking of his predecessor. The fact that Ramaphosa got a standing ovation even from the opposition in his maiden state of the Nation address in parliament is a good start. Thuma Mina, as a non-sectarian national mobilisation to unleash the full potential of the people of South Africa, provides the new president with an opportunity to rise above party politics and turn into a true father of the nation.
Ramaphosa is painfully aware that having won the presidency of the ruling party with a very small margin places constraints on his ability to act decisively in government. He needs to strengthen his position in the party as well as improving the chances of the ANC in next year’s elections by sending a message to the electorate that the ANC of Jacob Zuma is gone and that the ANC, under his leadership, is still the voice of the people. He is aware that the ANC has seriously lost electoral support in the last decade mainly due to government corruption and the shenanigans of his predecessor. His greatest challenge is to get the people to once again believe in the hegemony of the former glorious movement. This is a tall order indeed.
With the ANC shedding electoral support ever since Zuma came to power, Ramaphosa is determined to woo back the electorate to the people’s Movement, the African National Congress. To do so he needs to promise the people of South Africa as a whole that he has a new deal for the rainbow nation. Thuma Mina is therefore Ramaphosa’s trump card to appeal to all South Africans to roll their sleeves and get back to work in the true spirit of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Ramaphosa’s call for a new dawn mirrors former president JF Kennedy’s call to the American people in 1961 that “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” President Ramaphosa is asking all South Africans, irrespective of race, colour and political affiliation to lend a hand to rebuild a broken nation.
By inspiring the nation, through Thuma Mina, president Ramaphosa seeks to unite a divided people. Julius Malema and the EFF, having lost their Zuma trump card, are evolving into a fascist movement, spewing racist rhetoric that does not belong to a constitutional democracy. The official opposition, the DA, is going through a difficult phase as the various factions struggle for power under the leadership of the embattled Mmusi Maimane. Ramaphosa knows that the EFF is basically a noisy threat that is thriving because of the uselessness of the ANC Youth League more interested in ANC palace politics rather mobilizing the youth of South Africa to vote for the ANC. The much publicized launch of Youth Employment Service(Yes) is a case in point. Ramaphos has to neutralize the EFF threat and cut down their market share of the SA electoral vote. As for the DA, all that Ramaphosa has to do is to portray the official opposition as a spent force in the absence of the ruinous Jacob Zuma.
Ramaphosa’s new dawn therefore rests heavily on the successful implementation of Thuma Mina in which the people of South Africa will heed the call of their president and roll their sleeves as they walk together on a patriotic journey of renewal and nation building. Masekela himself spoke of caring for the sick; rehabilitating the drug addicts; helping the poor; and most importantly, getting the message all over the place in the schools, churches, shebeens and wherever people are meeting. This is a powerful message from the music and struggle icon that Ramaphosa chose so carefully to drive his point home. Today everyone talks of Thuma Mina and there is a general readiness by the nation to be sent to serve and lend a hand to the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. Thuma Mina must give hope to the hopeless; it is about selflessly giving of oneself in a national crusade to build an economically strong nation and a prosperous society.
There is no new dawn without Thuma Mina. Thuma Mina is the new dawn. It is only when the people as a whole, united behind a common and non-sectarian vision, led by a caring president, commit themselves to rebuilding their broken country. Thuma Mina.
Sello Lediga is a political commentator, author
and founder of the Thuma Mina Movement