Even the commander in chief of the red army, Julius Malema, had to join the standing ovation after President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa had delivered, arguably, the best parliamentary speech since Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” 22 years ago.
Sworn in as president of South Africa a day before, Ramaphosa forced his way into the annals of history when in one speech, he demolished the decade-old corrupt patronage edifice of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
When towards the end of his speech, he invoked the lyrics of recently departed music and struggle icon Hugh Masekela’s song Thuma Mina, even the perennially hostile Julius Malema, together with his red brigade, stood up to cheer the new president.
Reminiscent of former US president JF Kennedy, who at his 1961 inaugural speech mesmerised his nation when he exhorted his countrymen to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” Ramaphosa exhorted South Africans to volunteer their services for free to rebuild the broken country. He hit the right note with a despairing nation after a decade of ruinous leadership. Indeed, nearly every South African today is asking the president what it is they could do to make a contribution to the renewal of the nation. They want to be sent to national duty with immediate effect.
Forty eight hours before this historic speech, Ramaphosa was fighting a furious internal party battle to get Zuma to resign and hand over power to him. In defiant desperation, realising that his party was going to remove him through a motion of no confidence, the ruinous “constitutional delinquent” gave in at the very last moment, ushering in a new era in the history of South Africa.
Waiting in the wings to lead an economically damaged and politically fractured country, Ramaphosa did not disappoint. In a dramatic symbolic gesture of rebirth, he is promoting good health by engaging in highly publicised morning walks with which he is asking South Africans to join him in #MokhabaMustFall.
The interest shown by ordinary people and the media signifies an ideological break with the past. The buffalo is charging and ready to gore its adversaries as it takes over total control of the country.
Never since the dawn of democracy in 1994 under the leadership of president Nelson Mandela has the South African nation been so hopeful of the future. With Mandela, after the fall of apartheid, the great statesman had to manage white fears and black aspirations. Ramaphosa steps into a tricky situation.
Now 24 years in power, the fortunes of the ANC are declining, especially since Zuma came to power in 2009. A combination of corruption and mismanagement has led to an economic wasteland and political quicksand. In an unholy political alliance, the leftist EFF and the rightist DA have colluded to dislodge the ANC in three rich metros in South Africa. There is no doubt that Zuma was the main cause of the loss of these metros and the general decline in ANC electoral support nationally.
The fall of Jacob Zuma on Valentine’s Day led to Ramaphosa being the supreme leader in South Africa as ANC president and occupant of the Union Buildings. While he will have many long battles to gain the overwhelming support in the ANC considering his narrow victory at last year’s party conference, the powers of the presidency allow him to stamp his authority in the land.
He has the authority to reshuffle Zuma’s extraordinary mediocrity in Cabinet, rationalise government departments, breathe new life into captured crime and corruption busting agencies, restructure state-owned companies and stimulate the depressed economy.
With these actions only, South Africa can begin to make a break with the Zuma past and move with confidence into the future. Domestic and international capital have already indicated their willingness to inject much needed money into the economy because they believe that under the stewardship of Ramaphosa, South Africa is on the road to recovery.
As a visionary and a shrewd politician, Ramaphosa knows very well how important it is to mobilise the entire nation around a common vision. He has already cast that vision, especially during his long campaign to win the presidency of the ANC. He is currently developing a roadmap to recovery.
Indeed, Ramaphosa has inherited a “broken country” to quote opposition leader Mmusi Maimane. It is his responsibility to fix this broken country. Unlike Zuma, Ramaphosa realises that partisan party mobilisation will not save the embattled party and country. Only a comprehensive, inclusive and non-racial national mobilisation can rebuild South Africa.
It is therefore critically important for Ramaphosa to lead the rebirth of Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s rainbow nation. Every worker, entrepreneur, teacher, farmer, miner, doctor, politician, hawker, student and all sectors of society need to hold hands in a common effort to rebuild the country.
All South Africans must lend a hand to ensure the success of the rebirth. A nation is ready to be born again. It may be early days, of course, but the vision is cast and the roadmap is clear. Thuma Mina, Mr President.