Although he sporadically mentioned the “new dawn” on his ANC campaign trail, it was only when he elaborated on it at his inaugural State of the Nation address in February 2018 that the phrase officially and formally entered the political dictionary of South Africa. Only two days after he had disposed of his ruinous predecessor, President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa gave notice to all South Africans that the country was on a new trajectory.
Speaking to a despondent nation, still recovering from the destructive effect of the previous administration, Ramaphosa was painfully aware that he had to give hope to a broken nation crying out for a saviour and a new deal. He did not disappoint.
Towards the end of his speech, in a brilliant endeavour to catch the imagination of the embattled country, Ramaphosa invoked the lyrics of a song by struggle and music icon, Hugh Masekela, to inspire the nation. In that moment of brilliance, the new president immortalized Masekela through his song “Thuma Mina,” or “Send me.” With hindsight, the president had hit the right chord as Thuma Mina has become the war cry of South Africans seeking to selflessly serve their nation. A despairing and broken nation has rekindled its hope and found its voice through a new dawn. What the new dawn really entails remains a mystery and the president has the unenviable task of unpacking this colorful but unexplained concept to the nation. In humility, I would like to advise the president what his new dawn is possibly about. I have only identified 4 Pillars of this new dawn.
1. Clean Governance and Intensified Anti-Corruption Drive
Running for position in his corruption-prone African National Congress Party, Ramaphosa bravely centered his campaign on an anti-corruption plank. Brave because his party, in power for twenty four years, was responsible for nearly all the corruption in government. The outgoing president, NEC members in charge of the party and Ministers running government bore the main responsibility that had so revolted the senses of many South Africans. Ramaphosa took on a serious gamble that was likely to fail but had the courage of his convictions not only to condemn the corruption of his party in government, but made it clear that his comrades in government responsible for corruption would be severely punished for their actions. This was not a populist, but principled campaign that catapulted him to victory at the party national conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg in December 2018.
Now that Ramaphosa is both president of the ruling party and the country, the nation is watching whether he has the courage to implement the promises of good governance that he articulated so well on his campaign trail. He has started well by axing ten of Zuma’s compromised ministers, is currently restructuring the strategic state owned companies looted by the parasitic and corrupt Gupta family in business with the former first family, and has re-energized the captured crime and corruption busting agencies. The Hawks, for a long time under the spell of the previous president, are back in business and some high profile arrests have taken place. Even the NPA has woken up from its deep sleep to flex it muscle by doing their work, including re-instating charges against president Jacob Zuma, and proving to the new sheriff in town that they will prosecute without fear or favour. The removal of the compromised Zuma-Gupta SARS commissioner by Ramaphosa was a clear signal that corruption in the civil service would not be tolerated by the new administration and that state capture would be ferociously confronted.
The fact that president Ramaphosa has not only insisted on the establishment of the state capture Commission of Inquiry, but also went a step further to withdraw Zuma’s challenge to former Public Protector’s State of Capture report is encouraging. The whole nation is waiting with anticipation for the Zondo state capture Commission of Inquiry to commence its work and cleanse the embattled nation of all vestiges of corruption and capture. It is going to be very interesting to scrutinize the list of those subpoenaed to appear before the Commission.
Action against all those who are guilty of crime against the state should not wait for the Commission. Encouragingly, the Hawks and NPA have demonstrated new vigor in pursuing all those alleged to have committed crimes against the state. This work should be escalated to cover all areas of government, including fighting corruption in the provincial governments and municipalities. The fight against corruption must not only be widespread, it must be intensified to put on notice all those who have already been charged and send a strong message to those who are contemplating looting the state from their privileged positions in the state. This must be a total and unrelenting war against graft that the entire nation must support. Clean governance is what the nation demands. President Ramaphosa cannot fail the nation on this one.
2. Rebuilding a Broken Economy
The biggest challenge facing president Ramaphosa is the economic wasteland he inherited from his predecessor. Almost 9 million South Africans are without jobs, most of them young people with some form of education and training but with no opportunity to put their skill to use. The economy needs a serious jump start as the growth rate is at an all time low and requires some engineering to move into a growth trajectory. The junk status that followed the disastrous decisions of the previous president, including the firing of a capable and competent Finance Minister, brought the economy to its knees. If there is anything in which Ramaphosa must succeed, it is fixing the economy. He unfortunately inherits an economy operating in an inauspicious global environment and a country whose economic fundamentals have been deliberately compromised.
Not only does President Ramaphosa have to please international capital, he has to restructure the country’s economy to give South Africa a chance to succeed. Fortunately, as a courageous and visionary leader, he has already taken the right decisions to reverse the mess he inherited. Since his ascension to power just two months ago, he has axed his predecessor’s compromised and mediocre ministers, appointed a competent Finance Minister, restructured looted state owned companies and galvanized captured state agencies like the Hawks, the National Prosecution Authority and SARS into action.
The fact that the president has appointed a “pack of lions” to go global, hunting for that elusive investment is a clear indication that he means business. The investment drought suffered by this country as a result of destructive policies of the previous government must be ended and an unlocking of international investment will no doubt boost the economy of the rainbow nation. Unless the economic fundamentals are addressed, the pack of lions will bring nothing home and the economic situation will remain the same.
The good news with Ramaphosa is that as a businessman, he has a better grasp of what is to be done to save the country from ruin. He has the vision and the determination to launch on a new and possibly successful economic trajectory to turn around the economy and address the jobs crisis facing the country.
The most important thing that the country is waiting for is for Ramaphosa to spell out his economic plan. His economic advisors must get down to work immediately and produce a clear, unambiguous plan for the nation.
3. Education and Training
If South Africa is to make the breakthrough from the current crisis to future prosperity, the development of a well educated and well trained population is conditio sine qua non. The fourth industrial revolution is upon us and only a properly equipped citizenry will be able to take advantage of the benefits of the new revolution. Basic, secondary and tertiary education must be revved up to prepare the youth of the nation for the challenges of the future. Teachers must teach and learners must learn in order to give this country a fighting chance in a competitive world. The entire education and training system must be overhauled for purposes of relevance.
The failure of our public schooling system must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Quality public education must be provided to the majority of learners in this country who live predominantly in our sprawling townships and impoverished rural areas. We need to make a clean break with the current elitist system in which only the children of the rich and middle classes receive quality education. The ruling party in particular has to rein its allies in the trade union Movement who teach our children. The expensive and unsustainable mass migration of learners from the township and rural schools to the limited former Model C schools is unsustainable. Young people must attend school in their immediate environment where quality public education is provided. The education system must be seen to be working for all.
The huge skills shortage in the country is a cause for concern. The misguided thinking that every learner must end up at university is problematic. There is a worrying shortage of technical skills among South Africans that must be corrected. Looking down upon young people studying non-academic but much needed technical courses that the economy so dearly requires is the height of stupidity. The technical skills needed to build the infrastructure that the economy demands means that that there is an acute need for technical training in the country. The department of Higher Education bears the responsibility to deliver to the nation a skills revolution in the decades ahead to give South Africa a fighting in a competitive world.
With education and training virtually free from primary school to university, there is no excuse for continued failure, especially in the post-apartheid era. For nearly a quarter of a century, a democratic government, led by the ANC, has been in power on behalf of the people. The people must rightfully demand high performance from the government with regard to education and training. The future of this country is ultimately dependent on how successful we are in education and training. The Ramaphosa administration must deploy the right people to run our education and training system. With unemployment sky-rocketing among the youth, failure to equip them with the right skills to participate in the economy will no doubt lead to possible revolution with dire consequences. We cannot afford our own African version of the “Arab spring” in our beloved country.
4. Thuma Mina
“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around/ When they triumph over poverty/ I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS/ I wanna lend a hand/ I wanna be there for the alcoholic/ I wanna be there for the drug addict/ I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse/ I wanna lend a hand/ Send me.”
By invoking Masekela in his inaugural State of the Nation address, President Ramaphosa wanted to quote something profound to galvanize his audience and the entire nation to action. He chose the right song and the right musician to appeal to every South African to lend a hand in this monumental task of rebuilding the embattled South African nation. The results are promising as all over the country South Africans are offering their services for free in an unprecedented patriotic outburst never seen before. Ramaphosa has done his work because the main responsibility of any president is to inspire the nation and through Thuma Mina he has done so. Thereafter, the nation must translate the vision of their president into a practical national programme of nation building and prosperity.
A new spirit of patriotism,reminiscent of the era of the presidency of president Nelson Mandela, has once again gripped the nation. This is a natural reaction of any nation facing a crisis. The last nine years represent one of the darkest periods in the history of a democratic South Africa with rampant corruption, economic collapse, political madness and social strife. The wholesale looting of state owned companies, corruption in nearly all government departments and maladministration in nearly all municipalities in the country have led to our current state of crisis. To reverse the effects of this man-made devastation in South Africa, there is a need for an unprecedented national effort at nation building. Thuma Mina is about that.
In order for the three Pillars mentioned above to be realized, Thuma Mina must be a continuing and resounding success. Thuma Mina will run through the other pillars as a mobilizing mechanism towards the achievement of our national goals under the leadership of Ramaphosa. This explains why President Ramaphosa has called on every South African to roll up their sleeves and get down to work. Thuma Mina is not a sectarian or party political mobilization, it is a patriotic call to all those who love their country with their hearts to commit to serving the nation. It is a call to black and white; old and young; rich and poor; Christian and Muslim; worker and capitalist; educated and uneducated; healthy and sick; king and subject, to hold hands and walk together on a journey of success.
Thuma Mina is a clarion call by the new president to the entire nation to lend a hand.
This input is made without knowing exactly what the president has in mind with his New Dawn. However, listening and watching him during his grueling campaign for the leadership of his ruling party has shed some light. His inaugural State of the Nation address and all subsequent utterances have yielded some ideas about his thinking. We need to take a cue from that.
As Mr New Dawn, the president now has a responsibility to articulate in more clear terms what his new dawn entails. Political commentators, analysts, scholars and historians are becoming restless about this unexplained new dawn of the president. Nothing prevents the president from assembling a team of New Dawn advisors to help him articulate this vision more coherently in the interests of the nation.
Sello Lediga is a social commentator, author and founder
of the Thuma Mina Movement(www.thumaminamovement.co.za)