Not the time for fairy tales

2020-01-08 06:01

T IS the season to be hopeful and cheerful; a time for starry-eyed optimism and belief. Not!

This is rather a time to be realistic and pragmatic.

As we wake up from a period of overindulgence and give thanks to the blessed soul who invented regmakers, it is tempting to put on rose-tinted glasses. As Millie Jackson once put it, rose-tinted glasses allow you to see only beauty and ignore the truth.

A classic case of this is UK leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, recently describing last year as “a great year for Labour”, despite his party suffering its worst defeat in more than seven decades.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will be in Kimberley this weekend wearing his own rose-tinted glasses as he presides over the ANC’s anniversary celebrations.

The annual January 8 statement that the president of the party reads out at this occasion is meant to be a statement of intent for the year ahead and a set of instructions to the faithful.

The statement used to have great meaning when the ANC itself had great meaning.

In the decades of banishment, the January 8 message from the ANC’s then president, OR Tambo, was eagerly anticipated in the army camps, exile operations in foreign capitals and inside the country.

Announced on Radio Freedom and distributed in pamphlets in the dead of night throughout the land, it was a source of hope, inspiration and direction in dark times.

Those who heard and read them hung on to Tambo’s words as though they were a page from an apostle whose gospel writings were left out of the New Testament.

The day was sacred. Even after 1994, people — not only the ANC membership, but also the markets and the general public — waited with bated breath for Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s statements.

Then came that decade that we would wipe from our memories if we could.

Everything was debased, including January 8.

This weekend, Kimberley will be invaded by skimpily clad slay queens who make their annual pilgrimages to the Durban July, the Sun Met, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and other blingy events.

They will be out to nab themselves a free-spending somebody who will be able to make the year ahead a little easier to bear.

Fine liquids will flow, ridiculous bills will be flashed on social media and a jolly good time will be had by all.

The rank and file who will have arrived in buses will also enjoy their fair share of free fried chicken and rolls, and will club together for quarts and decently priced hot stuff.

Inside the stadium, Ramaphosa will attempt to inspire his party and South Africans in general. He will try to make us see the brighter side of things, urging us to believe that 2020 will be better than 2019.

He will try his best to get us to see that there are green shoots here and there, and that the government that his party leads is doing its utmost to water and fertilise them.

The slay queens and their benefactors — sitting somewhere far from the stadium and not caring a jot what the president is saying — will pop open another bottle of pricey bubbly and giggle erotically.

The broad masses who will have been ferried in from as far as Mopani and Umhlabuyalingana will chatter among themselves, while others drift out of the stadium, looking for something to dull the senses. Elsewhere in the land, nobody will care much.

But they will care next month, when Ramaphosa tries once more to inject optimism into South Africans with his state of the nation address.

Last year’s address was as flat as a bad pancake and as dreamy as a substance-influenced fantasy, so Ramaphosa can do no worse this year. His big challenge will be to avoid trying to hoodwink the nation into believing that wonderful things are in store for us this year. This is not the time for fairy tales and feel-good stories.

By all means, he must get us all to put our shoulders to the wheel if we are to drag South Africa out of its morass, but the message will need to be realistic and, if needs be, grim.

A tough 2020 will be exacerbated by leaders of Ramaphosa’s own party and its alliance partners. There is this stubborn refusal among many in the governing party to recognise the gravity of what we are facing.

On the day Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address, Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, is scheduled to march on Parliament to protest against the proposed containment of the crippling public sector wage bill. The urgent repair and restructuring of state-owned enterprises (which is so critical to turning this ship around) risks being sabotaged by the governing party’s union allies and the unhinged leadership of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA. Within the party’s leadership, there are some errant minds who see the world in the same blinkered way as the aforegoing.

Yet another compounding element will be the fact that the fractious ANC will spend the first few months so focused on its national general council, where all manner of useless battles will be waged, and the second half of the year recovering from those clashes.

This lowly newspaperman would dearly love to be cheery at this point in January and shouting “compliments of the season” to passing strangers. Not!

• Mondli Makhanya is editor of City Press.


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