Will this dress-up event be followed by action or by a dressing-down from a fed-up electorate? asks Busani Ngcaweni
Infuriated by water shedding since last Friday, the great lady who gave birth to me four-plus decades ago this month called me, saying: “Son, before you get busy with those funny dresses in Parliament, please call eThekwini Water and Sanitation, and tell them your mother and her neighbours have been without water for six days now.”
Being the good child that I am, I immediately called the utility, trying to locate someone at the Durban-based water department.
It is situated in the second largest city (by size and budget) in South Africa by the way.
As it turns out, while you read this intervention, my gracefully ageing mother (and my structurally unemployed brothers) remain without water - at least until summer comes.
Even a Jojo tank won't help.
The bottom line is that the city must restore water supply, even if it is done by rolling in water tankers.
This vital and lovely mother of mine, and grandmother of many, knew that this week’s state of the nation address (Sona) by our president would address such matters.
After all, our people – the electorate – have for too long been infuriated by water interruptions and other failures of basic service delivery.
She has, on numerous occasions, placed random phone calls to me, “to prick your conscience about our real situation here in our deteriorating municipality, so that you can tell your bosses in Parliament to intervene”.
She refuses to listen to my explanations involving “the three arms of state” that make up government, saying: “Uhulumeni [government] must ensure consistent and quality service delivery. Savota phela [we voted] ...”
She is right. The three arms et al are just vanity arrangements. The fact is, people look to government to deliver services.
Like her neighbours, my mother watches the news on television, listens to news bulletins on Ukhozi FM and reads Durban’s Isolezwe newspaper.
The community knows as much about governance failures in their municipalities as their Gauteng counterparts, who read the Business Day, tune in to Talk Radio 702 and watch eNCA, do.
And so, President Cyril Ramaphosa dealt with such matters in Thursday night’s Sona.
He gave a clear instruction: we must individually and collectively organise in a manner that gives consistent and quality services to all the people of South Africa.
In addition, he said, we must deliver quality education, affordable electricity, safer communities, decent jobs, affordable and quality healthcare, integrated human settlements, affordable data, and fair trade with our neighbours and the rest of the world.
Ramaphosa said we must be ethical, responsive and accountable. He said he would sign performance agreements with his executive.
He vouched for integrated planning that ensures all spheres of government act in concert and efficiently.
He pledged more police officers to keep our streets safe and secure.
To abused women and children, he pledged solidarity and practical interventions to stop gender-based violence.
For the corrupt and fallible in his government and outside of it, he has said there will be consequences.
To those who live in squalour in neighbourhoods such as Khayelitsha and Alexandra, he has pledged new cities, and better and integrated transport networks.
And for the performing artists, the finance minister has already promised a new state theatre – he did so earlier this year.
All this sounds like a dream come true for most of the country’s citizens; a dream of a better future for all.
Dreams are fuelled by the imagination, giving us a peep into the future we choose. Hence the president’s words about a speed train traversing Cape Town, Limpopo and elsewhere.
All this can be achieved through fiscal prudence, partnerships, social compacts and capability development across the state, as well as with the help of social partners, said the president.
But when all is said and done, it is the seven priorities highlighted by Ramaphosa that people will remember and hold this sixth administration accountable for.
Pomp and ceremony also matter. We are a nation in the making, after all, struggling to break from the yoke of coloniality so we can redefine ourselves as Africans.
In our choices of what to wear, what to drink and everything else, we ponder this dream of “being ourselves” – even if it is just a smokescreen to conceal conspicuous consumption and the dream of trending on social media.
Did you see that the masses prevailed? Postcolonial South Africa needs a semblance of Afrocentricity to be legitimate: Imbongi returned.
For many, Ramaphosa asserted the constitutional aspiration of a nation united in its diversity by celebrating the Khoisan language through having a Khoisan praise singer usher him into Parliament for the Sona.
To those more versed in social media, he said: “iPirates iyawina, qhude qhude, noma ningathini! [Pirates is winning, no matter what you say].”
What a spectacle; a rainbow nation in the making, indeed, as our sages contemplated.
We are truly living the dream of a united, nonracial, nonsexist, democratic South Africa, bigots like Steve Hofmeyr notwithstanding.
They are minute in relation to our imagined socially cohesive society.
Back to the drinks and dresses. You see, what the old lady from Inanda knows from watching television is funny dresses (she is trying to have her cataracts removed) with feathers, fluff and flair.
She thinks people sometimes try too hard to grab headlines on the red carpet, even if it means objectifying themselves.
Wait till she sees what goes on at Mam’Rubby, the post-Sona sanctuary. There, the devil has domicile. We judge little and party more.
But how the standards have dropped. In the streets of Parliament, according to the old lady, a sense of occasion must be maintained.
No funny boob tubes and dusty Dr Martens may enter the sacred gates of the legislature, she avers.
She should see the Sea Point joint where decency has all but disappeared and debauchery is a given.
This is where we outlive syphilis and inequality.
At Mam’Rubby, the popular deejays moer a host of dance hits, hip-hop and “singaphezulu” struggle songs.
“What a sense of occasion,” I always think, awed by these resident deejays of Cubana. They are always on point.
Newspaper editors, opposition party leaders and everyone else hits the dance floor and unites in party mode.
How I wish my mother’s tap could flow like these bar tabs; then there’d be peace in my hood.
Yet I know she’ll frown at the velvet ballgowns people wear here. In all my party days, I’ve never seen anything like this.
At Cubana, credit cards matter, comrades, not accreditation. We must leave those at home.
But I’m being hypercritical now. Let me stop right here.
The new dawn is upon us. People expect a better life. They deserve it.
The era of bling and pilot projects is over. The public want to see modesty in our public life. They want plans to be implemented, fast. No more expensive experiments.
It may be legal to buy luxury SUVs, but people are using morals and ethics to gauge our attitude towards the country’s bleak macroeconomic environment.
“Khawuleza [hurry up],” the people are singing. Slaying with service delivery must be our zeitgeist.
Let us build the South Africa we want and deserve to live in. That is the dream that the president spoke of in his Sona.
The dream of a people drinking safe water and dressed in the glory of decent work, safety and security.
The cultural iconography of bling and indifference must be replaced with the iconography of growth and a better life for all.
Ngcaweni works in the presidency
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