Guest Column

Tackle socioeconomic ills with determination

2018-06-03 12:07

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Since becoming president in February, Cyril Ramaphosa has renewed the hopes and dreams of many South Africans. Like the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which the leadership became a law unto itself, many of us wondered what had gone wrong in the aftermath of the revolution against apartheid. But through his Thuma Mina campaign, which requires all citizens to contribute to the revival of our country, Ramaphosa seems to have struck the right chord.

Throughout history, distinguished visionaries have taken it on themselves to direct their respective societies, often after a distasteful past. Challenges such as poverty, Nazism, racism and colonialism presented them with the responsibility to move their people forward in the face of adversity.

Late president Nelson Mandela is a case in point. His tenure centred on reconciliation and nation-building, necessary for a country emerging from the doldrums of apartheid. During his presidency, as is the case even today, South Africa was deeply in need of national healing after more than 300 years of racial subjugation and oppression. Citizens from diverse backgrounds needed to find one another as they navigated the uncharted waters of their liberated country.

President Thabo Mbeki’s presidency took the revitalisation of the economy as its central task. Crucial to this was to ensure that the racially-defined trajectory of the apartheid economy was reversed and that black people were empowered to fully participate in and reap the fruits of the country’s wealth. This was of utmost importance as, under apartheid, they were locked out of the financial, commercial and agricultural mainstream, surviving through crumbs from the master’s table. Most importantly, Mbeki’s call for the renewal of Africa, an African Renaissance, resonated with citizens after the continent’s trials and tribulations.

The late 1950s and early 1960s was a defining period for Africa, as colonialism faced defeat. African leaders confidently redefined their societies and implemented new policies. Top of the agenda was the socioeconomic emancipation of the people. In Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah was imbued with socialist ideology, as was Julius Nyerere, the revered founding father of Tanzania.

Nyerere hoped to emancipate Tanzanians through ujamaa, an African form of socialism, and bring about self-sufficiency and economic viability. Nyerere was personally modest and selfless, at one with the people – a far cry from some other lavish and corrupt African leaders, such as the much hated Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who helped himself without restraint from state resources.

Selflessness and dedication is what South Africa requires as we emerge from an era of uncertainty and near economic collapse. Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina campaign, in tune with the Batho Pele campaign that requires civil servants to prioritise the people above everything else, may in fact define his presidency, as did the parallel initiatives of the likes of Nkrumah, Nyerere and Mandela. It may leave an indelible mark on the country’s legacy against corruption and hasten the renewal of our social fabric.

However, the Thuma Mina campaign cannot be a one-person show. It requires leaders in government, business, civil society and the interfaith community to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the struggle against crime, corruption, malpractice, inefficiency and the other demons that bedevil South Africa today: teachers must teach effectively; learners must learn; the police must guard society without brutality; writers must write objectively; community members must voluntarily involve themselves in community-related work; and heritage practitioners must protect and transform the heritage landscape.

Such things should happen not in an authoritarian or patronising manner, but in a way that demonstrates commitment and dedication, in the selfless spirit of Thuma Mina. After all, there lived men and women who dedicated their lives to the struggle against apartheid who, like Vuyisile Mini and Solomon Mahlangu, went to the gallows in order for freedom to reign today. It is in the spirit of such dedication that we should commit ourselves to Thuma Mina.

The campaign requires us to do some soul searching: are we not the sometimes traumatised carriers of the bitterness and hatred of our violent apartheid past? It is difficult to fathom why two white farmers, Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen, forced Victor Mlotshwa into a coffin and see nothing untoward in having done so; why a privileged young man, Henri van Breda, would violently wipe out his family with an axe and remain calm; why Sandile Mantsoe gruesomely killed his girlfriend, Karabo Mokoena, whose parents had clearly toiled to provide her with a good life and education; why Kaizer Chiefs fans recently ran amok, destroying and looting property and equipment after their team lost. We look to psychologists, social workers, faith-based community organisations and other experts for answers.

Such things indicate a society that needs to recover its moral compass and its sense of collective direction. It is in the spirit of Thuma Mina that all South Africans should tackle our range of socioeconomic ills with determination and commitment.

- Mancotywa is the CEO of the National Heritage Council

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