Editorial: Cyril, you owe the nation

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address. Picture: Jaco Marais/Netwerk24
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address. Picture: Jaco Marais/Netwerk24

Minutes after President Cyril Ramaphosa finished his maiden state of the nation address (Sona) in February last year, Hugh Masekela’s Thuma Mina trended on social media and everywhere citizens had gathered.

The song had been an inspired one as it sent a message that we were exiting the era of greed and self-aggrandisement that had defined the previous administration.

We were now entering an era in which we would all be expected to put our collective shoulder to the wheel and carry the nation forward. The spirit of Thuma Mina injected hope and energy throughout the nation, albeit short-lived.

Like a jaded magician, Ramaphosa tried to pull the same trick on Thursday night.

This time, it was not a musician he turned to – it was Ben Okri, one of the most respected writers, poets and intellectuals of our time.

“Will you be at the harvest, among the gatherers of new fruits? Then you must begin today to remake your mental and spiritual world, and join the warriors and celebrants of freedom, realisers of great dream,” the president quoted.

Opposition MPs howled in derision, the ANC benches were muted and the public was unimpressed.

The reason? South Africans want concrete answers and plans, not beautiful poetry and wistful fantasies.

What he delivered was a rehash of previous promises, a laundry list of pledges and a smattering of updates.

This Sona ended up being one of his poorest speeches since December 2017. It was the worst possible start to his formal term as elected president of the republic.

However, it is not the end of the world. Ramaphosa must make up for what he lacked in meaningful words with meaningful action.

A lot of what he spoke about was rehashed and still needs to be put into action.

The challenge of breathing life into the economy, an issue that rightfully dominated his bland speech, should be priority number one.

As he pointed out: “Our economy is not growing. Not enough jobs are being created … This is the concern that rises above all others.”

For us to win this battle, all other battles in our society need to be relegated.

The petty internecine fights within the ANC have to end now. The party’s factions still behave as though a leadership election is imminent.

Proxy wars have to be halted. The ANC should be creating an enabling environment for economic growth instead of being the major obstacle.

It should give Ramaphosa the space to govern and drive economic growth. Yes, it should hold him to account, but this should not be for gratuitous reasons.

As for Ramaphosa, he needs to shed his wimpish image and lead.

The people gave him a mandate to drag the country out of the morass, and he owes them.

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