Mamphela Ramphele

Why I choose to dream with President Ramaphosa

2019-06-25 05:00
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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The president cannot wave a magic wand. We need to re-dream ourselves out of the tolerance of poverty and inequality that undermines the human dignity of so many, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

We should welcome the president's invitation to "remake our mental and spiritual world," because "each new era begins within with unsuspected possibilities for inner liberation". 

Critics of President Cyril Ramaphosa's SONA as "long on dreams and lacking detail" do not seem to have read his statement with the necessary care. 

The statement spells out in great detail seven priorities and five goals, namely, zero hunger, kick starting the economy, youth employment, better education outcomes, and tackling violent crime. It also spells out some of the "how" in the body of the SONA. 

Our country's stalled transformation to a more just, inclusive, prosperous nation united in its diversity, is unlikely to be unlocked without using the power of dreams to imagine a different future.

It is clear from all the evidence from the last 25 years that we are not yet a free people, as Ben Okri's inspirational poem reminds us. Our un-freedom is written all over our society in broken homes, violence in communities, failing education and health care systems, tolerance of humiliating poverty and inequality, and wastage of the talent of our youthful population with 7.2 million of them unemployed. It is not reasonable to expect the president to set out more detailed plans for addressing all these problems.

Those in the private sector calling for greater clarity of messages to attract and keep investors engaged are forgetful of the lessons of the GEAR era. Orthodox economic policies focussing on economic growth benefitted a few and widened the legacy of inequalities. The world is increasingly questioning orthodox economics and its love affair with GDP growth.

The president's five goals pay attention to the well-being of the majority of citizens who have been marginalised thus far. It also recommits to a just transition to low carbon and renewable energy to promote greater sustainability of natural resources.

State capture flourished over the last 20 years in an environment that tolerated marginalisation of the majority by a minority. A society that lives the human rights values of our Constitution would not have allowed state capture to become so embedded in the environment of doing business and governance at all levels.

The role of major corporations, including banks, in the hollowing out of state assets, needs to be acknowledged as part of the healing process. We all need to participate in the healing process to "clean our eyes to see ourselves more clearly" as the president urges us to do.

The work of transforming our society has to be done by all of us. The president cannot wave a magic wand. We need to re-dream ourselves out of the tolerance of poverty, inequality and unemployment that undermines the human dignity of so many and threaten our sustainability as a nation. 

We need to go back to the foundations of our society, starting with the preamble of our Constitution. We need to heal ourselves from the wounds of our ugly past so we can see ourselves in each other's eyes beyond the cancer of colour coding. We need to accept the president's invitation to "turn on our inward lights" as part of that healing process.

Every challenge we currently face could be turned into an opportunity if we embrace holistic transformation that disrupts our current reality. Our cities and towns could be reimagined into more sustainable human settlements with socio-economic systems that are redesigned to use natural resources more re-generatively and be powered by renewable energy. Imagine how many jobs we could create by training and utilising young people to become providers of public services to rejuvenate, clean and maintain public assets! 

We also need to reimagine Eskom. The proposed restructuring of Eskom into the three business units, generation, transmission and distribution, holds great promise to strengthen the world class transmission and distribution units whilst transforming the generation focus from fossil fuel to renewables. 

The R200bn already invested in renewables could rapidly quadruple as more and more investors, including development finance institutions, migrate out of fossil fuel. This migration would benefit rural areas where land for solar, wind and biofuels is abundant. Promoting agriculture and food security including agro-processing, as outlined in the SONA, would benefit from access to locally generated power supplies.

The mining industry needs to discharge its responsibilities to rehabilitate their operational areas as required by their social licence to mine. Imagine if the industry would faithfully budget for, and utilise rehabilitation funds to transform the ugly scarred landscapes of mining dunes, dust and acid mine drainage! 

As the mining industry recedes into a less prominent role in the economy it needs to shift gear into gear to ensuring the well being of mining communities whose lives have been disrupted by their operations. Imagine the benefits of job creation, enhancing the quality of our environment and of life for millions whose health is being severely compromised!

Protecting and rehabilitating natural resources including species that are going extinct due to disruption of their habitats, is critical for the industry, and our society, to repay the debt to future generations.

Our president should take strength from Eleanor Roosevelt who reminded her then cynical fellow American citizens that: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." 

- Mamphela Ramphela is co-founder of ReimagineSA. 

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