Since that fateful day in parliament, Thuma Mina has become a household phrase and has come to mean anything to some and everything to others.
What president Cyril Ramaphosa sought to do on his inaugural State of the Nation address was to begin to galvanize the entire South African society to action, irrespective of race, culture or religion. The underlying assumption, in his New Dawn, was that the country was emerging from an era of darkness. Is it not said that it is the hour before dawn that is the darkest?
Ever since SONA in February, the country is awash with Thuma Mina slogans, pronouncements and T-shirts. Most of these are slogans chanted in good faith as a commitment to make a contribution to our embattled nation. The first question to answered is simple : what is Thuma Mina? Since the idea is new and no body of scholarship and research can claim to have done work on it, it is our responsibility to give this noble idea content. For me Thuma Mina is nothing but a new philosophy of thinking and a way of life. This philosophy is based on selfless service to your country. It is about selflessness; it is about patriotic duty; it is about work without remuneration. I am compelled to remind you what the youngish US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy said to his countrymen and women at his inaugural address in 1961. He uttered the inspirational and immortal words that “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Nothing is more relevant and appropriate in South Africa today than Kennedy’s immortal words. In the last twenty four years of democracy, South Africa has been sinking into a morass of dependence, entitlement and helplessness. Millions of able and normal citizens look upon the state to do things for them as they shamelessly convert themselves into passive and pathetic recepients of “delivery.” In its naïveté born of lack of experience in government and bidding for power in the countdown to the first ever democratic elections in 1994, South Africa’s foremost liberation movement, the African National Congress, promised the people of South Africa heaven on earth – free housing, free education, free healthcare, free services of all kinds all over the place.
Once victorious, the ANC, as the ruling party, had to translate its election promises into deliverables and came face to face with the reality of power and governing. President Nelson Mandela and his government learnt the hard way that making unrealistic promises at ANC rallies was one thing, delivering on those promises was another. To be honest, the ANC government has delivered a lot in the last quarter of a century since it came to power in 1994.. The South African political, social and economic landscape is unrecognizable from its apartheid times. The African National Congress has largely delivered on most but not all of its 1994 and subsequent promises. However, there was no way it was going deliver on the scale of its initial naive promises. Also, the ANC must be forgiven for not knowing what took to govern as it had not governed before 1994.
Despite the ANC’s momentous achievements in the last 24 years, South Africa finds itself at the crossroads. The large black population that the ANC claims to have liberated and delivered to is up in arms. It demands more delivery from the embattled, divided and factionalized party that is surely on the decline. Service delivery protests, trade union strikes and general mayhem are the order of the day. The large scale corruption and state capture of the last decade have created a crisis for the ruling party. President Ramaphosa is faced with challenges of unprecedented proportions in a toxic environment in which to succeed he must fearlessly fight corruption and jail some of his comrades who were the main protagonists of the ruinous Jacob Zuma era. This explains why the former trade unionist, Secretary General of the ANC and businessman talks of a New Dawn. He is essentially appealing to all South Africans to lend support to his government that is confronted with huge challenges in the failing and shrinking economy. To succeed, he realizes, every South African must embrace a new philosophy of life, Thuma Mina.
With unemployment at crisis levels, education failing, healthcare distressed, crime on the increase, youth facing a bleak future, South Africans have no option but to embrace a new philosophy of life to get themselves out of the current debilitating quagmire. Government alone is unequal to the task facing the country. A new philosophy of Thuma Mina, in which all South Africans will take responsibility “for turning it round,” to quote Bra Hugh Masekela, is a conditio sine qua non for the renewal of the Rainbow Nation.
South Africans must embrace a philosophy of giving instead of taking; a philosophy of serving instead of being served; a philosophy of loving instead of being loved; a philosophy of being overtaken instead of overtaking; a philosophy of helping instead of being helped; a philosophy of taking the back of the queue instead of the front; a philosophy of “us” instead of “me;” a philosophy of selflessness instead of selfishness; a philosophy of a collective above the individual. The Thuma Movement is about all of the above.
The seed that president Matamela Ramaphosa planted in parliament in Cape Town at SONA must be nurtured to germinate and mature into a nation building harvest. Thuma Mina, as Masekela had intended it, must unite the people of South Africa in their quest for a common humanity . It should not serve short term and partisan political and sectional interests. Yes, we should indoctrinate our children to embrace this new philosophy. We should inculcate in our children and grandchildren a love for their country. Our youth must understand that there is a great future to fight and work for. A state of despair must be transformed into a state of optimism about the future. Young people need to be motivated that they are not useless and that not having a job doesn’t mean worthlessness; instead the youth must be gainfully engaged in voluntary work to serve communities as they wait for that employment. All this must happen as we fix the economy so that more opportunities are created for the youth to avoid a Tunisian-style explosion that led to the Arab spring in North Africa. We must give hope to the youth of our country.
As a way of life, Thuma Mina demands behavioural change from all of us. We cannot continue to behave the way we used to do in the past. Every living South African must understand the responsibility thrust upon them to build a better and greater country. The government alone will not be able to do so. Most successful societies are those in which every citizen takes responsibility. The true greatness of any nation resides in the attitude of its citizenry. The fourth industrial revolution is upon us and requires the kind of resourcefulness never before thrust upon us as a people. Every act that we embark upon must be a conscious decision of nation building. It is our responsibility as individuals to ensure that the education system produces the desired results , the health system works, the economy performs, crime is combatted, corruption is defeated and that we live in a prosperous society. All that requires effort from all of us as citizens of a country determined to confront its current problems and forge forward to a better future. All this demands a new philosophy.
We in the Thuma Mina Movement are prepared to embrace a new way of life, buttressed by a new philosophy of selfless service to the nation; we are committed to putting our country first and work tirelessly towards a greater and more prosperous South Africa; we are prepared to use all our available resources to bring relief to the sick, the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable; we will travel the length and breadth of this country in service of the nation; we will deploy our meagre resources to help those in need; we are ready to serve.
The philosophy and noble ideals of the Thuma Mina Movement must inspire all patriotic South Africans to work together to make South Africa great. The Thuma Mina Movement seeks to complement the work of government because we do not believe that government alone is equal to the task of addressing the challenges facing our broken nation. The Thuma Mina Movement seeks to mobilize the collective professional resources of the people of South Africa and deploy them for the common good. Oh yes, the Thuma Mina Movement will require the resources of the private sector to invest directly into programmes that benefit the people without the suffocating bureaucracy of government. The Thuma Mina Movement is alive and kicking all over the country and calls upon all South Africans to embrace a new and productive way of life.
Join the Movement. Thuma Mina.
Sello Lediga is a social commentator, author
and CEO of the Thuma Mina Movement