Ramaphosa's New Dawn: Embrace ambition

2018-06-24 10:16
Cyril Ramaphosa reacts as he arrives at Parliament in Cape Town, on February 15 (MIKE HUTCHINGS / POOL / AFP)

Cyril Ramaphosa reacts as he arrives at Parliament in Cape Town, on February 15 (MIKE HUTCHINGS / POOL / AFP)

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President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new dawn is conceptually flawed. It is figuratively and literally short-sighted. It lacks long-term perspective. It is already losing steam and will not last.

At the core of Ramaphosa’s new dawn is a message of hope. His spin doctors crafted this concept of a new dawn with the idea of making South Africa believe that tomorrow will be better.

But a lot has already happened, thwarting and disproving this message of hope. It is becoming clear that South Africa does not need a new dawn. Instead, we need a whole new spirit of ambition.

The metaphor of a new dawn may sound poetic, but dawn is, by nature, a very short time in the totality of the 24 hours that see each day come and pass.

South Africans must be weary of political metaphors that are catchy, yet elusive at best and erratic at worst. Remember the rainbow nation of Desmond Tutu? The rainbow disintegrated as soon as the rain – honeymoon – was over. Nelson Mandela’s body was no sooner in his tomb, than the demon of racism reared its ugly head again.

Like a rainbow, the new dawn is elusive and erratic, and we shouldn’t be surprised to witness Ramaphosa’s phantom short-lived.

This is not to say that inspiring hope is not a crucial role of political leadership. Far from that! What we are saying is that a message of hope has to be accompanied by “concomitant action” – to borrow a phrase from Ramaphosa himself – if hope is to be sustained.

For how long can you keep people in dawn, hoping for a bright new future, when what they see is a dark cloud of destitution or rays of economic hardships?

When people do not see any real change and action undertaken to realise their hopes, a state of despair sets in and creates a trust deficit between the leaders and the people.

Developments show that South Africans would do themselves a favour not to be gullible. VAT and the petrol price have risen, gross domestic product figures have declined, people are losing jobs and ratings agencies are ambivalent, all of which have wiped away the patina over Ramaphosa’s message of hope and exposed its flaws and short-sightedness.

Ramaphosa’s accommodation of Bathabile Dlamini – the epitome of mediocrity – his retention of Gupta stooges like Malusi Gigaba and the inclusion of Nomvula Mokonyane in his Cabinet, have fallen short of public expectations and left many people asking if he has a spine.

Regrettably, these decisions have planted the seed of doubt about his leadership. Hence, on trust, Ramaphosa has been hoisted with his own petard.

Few South Africans would disagree that the 24 years of successive ANC regimes have mutilated the spirit of self-reliance among South Africans and instead inculcated a culture of dependency.

This is precisely the reason a new spirit of ambition should be allowed to possess the soul of South Africans if we are to succeed as a nation. The first step is to change our attitude to the very concept of ambition.

We grow up knowing ambition to be self-centred and that it should be shunned. People who show ambition are generally frowned upon. But South Africans are neither the first nor the last to grapple with this concept.

The chief conspirators in ancient Rome accused their victim, Julius Caesar, of being ambitious and gave this as the reason for their brutal action on that fatal day on the Ides of March.

But ambition is not all negative; it has positive connotations. Writing in his essay in 1905, South Africa’s Hendrik van der Bijl could not have been more apposite: “Ambition is a desire for fame, power, honour, excellence,” he said. Ambition “is vicious and yet it can be virtuous; it is ignoble and yet it is noble; it is unselfish and yet it is vainglorious”.

It is precisely this understanding of ambition as the desire for honour and excellence, of it being virtuous and noble that we should nurture as individuals and collectively as a people.

Looking around the world, you soon realise successful nations are those where ambition is celebrated, promoted and rewarded.

In his book Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, journalist Evan Osnos observes the word ambition in China traditionally had negative connotations because, when translated into Chinese, it is “ye xin” which means wild hearts. Having a wild heart suggested savagery and absurdity and being ill-mannered.

However, in the 21st century, the Chinese changed their conservatism and embraced ambition to become the second-largest economy in the world. They put a positive spin on ambition and embraced it as a sign of honour, achievement and excellence.

They let go of their laid-back attitude and replaced it with a new culture of urgency. To harness this new culture, Osnos notes that a top sociologist at Sun Yat-sen University, Professor He Zhaofa, was assigned to develop a manifesto in favour of speed.

In it, he criticises general sloppiness among Chinese and lamented that “even American women in high heels walked faster than young Chinese men”. The manifesto implored fellow Chinese to step up their game and show “appreciation of every second”.

Anyone visiting China today gets an impression of a people gripped by a sense of urgency, a people who have a sense of restlessness and are on a mission to catch up with the developed world. It is this go-getter attitude of the age of ambition that has changed China’s fortunes.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what we, South Africans, lack. We remain generally a hopeful nation, but what we lack is ambition. We need urgently to replace a culture of dependency with a new one of self-reliance.

So, if Jacob Zuma’s tenure was a long winter of despair, Ramaphosa’s season of hope must not lull South Africans into a culture of dependency. South Africans must wake up from the slumber of the new dawn and embrace a new age of ambition.

- Malada is a member of the Midrand Group and a Fellow of the Philosophical Society of SA

Read more on:    ramaphosa  |  cyril  |  politics

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