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Here is something that is worth thinking about. South
African has had five presidents since achieving democracy. Each has been very
different, and each has represented our journey towards adulthood.
Here is why I say so.
President Nelson Mandela was our first "teacher"
and much like any nursery school educator, focussed on the basics. With his
guidance we learned to draw pictures of rainbows. And then we understood that
we were the rainbows. That we are all the colours on the spectrum and that
together we could create a magnificent picture.
White South Africans under his gentle guidance began to
learn that "sharing is caring". Yet, he made sure that we weren't too
quick to deal with many of the uncomfortable stuff. Mandela's kindergarten
seemed to adopt the approach that there is plenty of time later on to broach
those conversations. Instead, he seemed to suggest, we should first learn to
get along. We should watch sports together, we should sing and dance and have
And we did.
Primary school was a shock. It came too soon, and we were
not ready for the dramatic shift in the teaching approach. We left the warm
embrace of Mandela and walked towards the man that awaited us at the gate of
our new environment.
He shook hands formally and it was immediately clear that he
was intellectual and distant. Thabo Mbeki was a bit advanced for us and we
weren't sure how to cope with it. We also weren't convinced that he ever cared
much for us – even though I am certain that he did.
You know those teachers who would be happier teaching the
older kids? That was Mbeki. He never seemed comfortable how to deal with us and
what he could or couldn't tell us. And so, not meaning to alarm us about crime
or Aids, he let us believe that African potatoes was the cure and that we
should worry about the Zimbabwean situation. He was taking care of it and we
should concentrate on being children. But we were growing up and we knew he
wasn't levelling with us.
And so, we didn't really object, as we got a bit older, when they replaced him with substitute teacher in the form of Kgalema Motlanthe who seemed to care for us as only a substitute teacher could.
Then came Jacob Zuma, a man who was very capable of showering love when he chose to. It was Jacob Zuma who lead us into our wild and irresponsible adolescent years.
The Zuma high school was chaos. Rules didn't apply. Prefects
were on the "take" and the teachers were corrupt. There was no order.
The principal sold whatever equipment that the school owned and he laughed
whilst he did. And we laughed too. Because he was fun. And no one seemed
worried about the future, so why should we. We were adolescents after all.
Zuma introduced us to sex (and showers) and greed and
through him we met some dangerous friends who repulsed and intrigued us at the
It was a party. And who doesn't love a good party?
Until it ended. Then we looked around us, and we were
horrified and ashamed. Our beautiful school lay in ruins and we felt embarrassed
about what we had become. We knew then that it was time to grow the hell up.
We needed a new president and Cyril Ramaphosa was just the
One of the characteristics of adulthood is an understanding
that no one is perfect. And he is not perfect. But he is talented, wise and
smart and he treats us like the adults he needs us to be. We believe that he
wants what is best for the country.
One of the criticisms levelled against Ramaphosa is the slow
speed that he seems to operate at. Our need for immediate and quick solutions
might be understandable and valid. But it is also a sign of impulsive youth
that requires instant gratification.
Ramaphosa's style is anything but that and one of the things
that we will learn from him is that things take time. He is addressing
corruption and the economy and progress is being made. We just need to readjust
our expectation with regard to the time frame.
South Africans are on a journey. We have come a long way
from the naïve days of Mandela, we lived through the perplexing and confusing
Mbeki days and we survived the adolescent Zuma period. We need to recognise and
acknowledge how far we have come. We need to not forget the lessons learned
along the way and to never repeat them.
More importantly, we need to reach back to our toddler days
and once again start drawing pictures of rainbows.
- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of two books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM. Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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