Opinion: SONA 2019
‘Internationalist thinkers‘ and there are many in our beloved country who, when juxtaposing seminal addresses or speeches delivered by our leaders in South Africa in any discipline, subconsciously – and I attribute this to the many centuries of subjugation we suffered under the yoke of oppression before the dawn of our democracy in 1994 – do so, by going beyond our continent.
It isn’t uncommon for us to opine that when the DA leader Maimane speaks, he mirrors or fashions himself as the former US President Barack Obama.
I was thus not surprised post 2019 June 20 SoNA when commentators and political parties represented in parliament, concluding that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s SoNA was a dream ala J.F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the USA. Some ventured even further and said the president’s address was nothing but a dream.
Centuries of oppression which in my view, will take time and concerted efforts to undo collectively as South African citizens in particular, blur us so blindly that we cease to think about the ‘Dream’ of Mwalimu (teacher) Julius Nyerere, the founding father of democracy in Tanzania.
If we did, we would know today that presidents, the world over and from time immemorial, set the tone of the direction which they intend their respective countries to follow through dreams. We would have known that liberation movements leaders in Africa drank from the dream well of knowledge from Mwalimu.
Dreams – or shall I say teachings for the benefit of those who literally interpret dreams and fail to comprehend what they mean, of the founding father of democracy in Tanzania – are today as relevant as they were then.
Contextually interpreted, presidents’ dreams are, simply put, visions which public servants in all spheres of government, state owned enterprises, the private sector (businesses big and small) and society as a whole must interpret and concretize.
We have, I think, for a number of years, yearned for a ‘Dream’ SoNA which would shock our consciences. And the varied responses to SoNA 30 June 2019 did exactly that.
But is it the first that we imbibe a Dream SoNA which post delivery left us unable to contextually interpret?
No, it is not.
During the second post apartheid government’s term, President Thabo Mbeki delivered his seminal ‘I am an African’ address, and we promptly drew an analogy with Martin Luther King Jr. from the USA. Would we think about equating Mbeki’s address to the one delivered by President Mzee Jomo Kenyata, the founding President of Kenya, himself an orator of note? No. We wouldn’t. We are simply wired to look beyond our continent.
Responses to Mbeki’s ‘I am an African‘ speech weren’t too dissimilar from Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’ delivered on 20 June 2019. Post delivery of ‘I am an African‘ by Mbeki, commentators, political parties and my white compatriots, reacted widely and wildly. Some of my white compatriots simply said at the time that they were scared.
They didn’t understand what Mbeki meant when he said “At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black Mamba and the pestilential mosquito.” Most of us were puzzled when he said his body had frozen in the frosts and snows.
Mbeki was in dreamland we felt. The results of the ‘I am an African’ Dream were realized when civil servants, government departments, the private sector (business big and small) and society concretized Mbeki’s Dream pretty much unaware that they were implementing the ‘I am an African Dream.’
Had the ‘I am an African‘ Dream by Mbeki clicked in our collective minds when President Ramaphosa delivered his SoNA on 20 June 2019, there wouldn’t have been any need for some commentators and political parties alike to draw parallels between President Ramaphosa’s ‘Dream’ SoNA to JFK.
Mbeki was in the gallery when Ramaphosa delivered his ‘Dream’ on 20 June 2019. Had they cared to know what President Ramaphosa’s Dream meant contextually, Mbeki would probably have interpreted President Ramaphosa’s ‘Dream’ in a more simplified manner.
Ramaphosa’s ‘Dream’ and again, for the uninitiated, isn’t a policy statement. It is a vision, which, if we put all our hands on deck, can be realized. Transforming Shanghai Pudong from a village to a city was too complex… Yet that dream was realized.
SA isn’t short of space. A new city can be built with ease around Tubatse or Makhado corridor in Limpopo. The infrastructure for such a dream to be realized already exists. In the Northern Cape Province, in Springbok, a city can be built there with as much ease. Infrastructure already exists for this Dream to be realized.
Creating a city in any part of our country is a low hanging dream fruit if we all put our hands on deck. Not only did President Ramaphosa Dream, he shared information with us on the R300 billion of investments he pronounced on at the inaugural Investment Conference in 2018. Some R250 billion worth of projects have entered the implementation phase, he told the nation.
Yes, and because our point of reference as South Africans, is anything and everyone beyond the borders of our continent, we missed to interpret not only the body of his poignant ‘Dream’ contextually, but also that he, unlike some of those who go beyond the borders of the continent for reference, called on us all to take to heart the words of novelist and poet Ben Okri, a distinguished and world-renowned son of Africa. Alas, it escaped most of us.
I for one cannot, and will not, forget these wise words by Ben Okri: “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, realizers of great dreams…” When the President quoted these words, I heard my inner-self singing Bra Hugh Masekela’s ‘Thuma Mina’ and thought that perhaps I felt it unwise to say ‘Send Me‘ again.
I know that political adversaries seldom cheer one another. So when I listened to some of commentators and political parties responding to President Ramaphosa’s ‘Dream’ SoNA, I took shade in a Tshivenda dictum: LIVHANGA LI VHANGA U SWIKA LI TSHI FA. Tshivenda being one of South Africa’s official languages, I won’t bore you by translating it, because presumably, I hold, you know it.