VOICES
16/02/2018 21:46 SAST | Updated 16/02/2018 21:54 SAST

'For The First Time In A Decade, I Want To Lend A Hand'

On this night, what has been unleashed is a sense of building and not of only opposing.

REUTERS/Gianluigi Guercia
President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives to deliver his state of the nation address at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 16, 2018.

For so many years, we have been in combat mode – fighting, going to court and reporting at the coal-face of state capture as we watched our country being stolen. I have felt like someone who opposes and does not propose; someone who looks for the problem, not the solution.

When the good men of South African politics, the finance ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan, were unceremoniously dismissed by former president Jacob Zuma as they tried to protect the precious public rand, the battle felt ineluctable and my opposition hardened.

Often, watching the impunity with which the crony Gupta family operated and watching how those precious public rands were funnelled into concentric crony networks away from the people who needed it most, it felt like the battle for our country had been lost. There had indeed been a silent coup and a shadow state controlled the body politic, as academics who drew up the Betrayal report had found.

Suddenly, I want to lend a hand, to be sent. I haven't felt that for the past decade.

This week has been elating, a retrieval of an idea of what South Africa may be.

When Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng swore in President Cyril Ramaphosa this week, it felt like a triumph of law over the rotten men of state capture. It has been a week of hope and Ramaphosa's speech on Friday night excavated the founding ideas of our democracy: of social justice and a broader nonracialism that does not shy from dealing with anaemic land and transformation policies.

The clarity of his state of the nation speech provided a clear roadmap of where South Africa is headed. Ramaphosa set priorities: youth unemployment; social contracts with business and labour; it identified mining, manufacturing and tourism as the growth sectors. And Ramaphosa announced a number of new bodies and structures to unlock investment and employment. It was sensible and vintage Ramaphosa as he drew on his concentric networks. But the most resonant part of the speech was the call to service, a sense that we were back in a time of servant leadership.

This week has been elating, a retrieval of an idea of what South Africa may be.

Our challenges are many and the crony networks go far beyond the Gupta family. Our government has not always been in service of its people but the ringing call by Ramaphosa for us to lend a hand has stirred the citizen in me to think beyond opposition and to think about how it is we can lend our hands to make South Africa all it can be. Ramaphosa used the words of the late South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela.

"I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around

When they triumph over poverty

I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS

I wanna lend a hand

I wanna be there for the alcoholic

I wanna be there for the drug addict

I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse

I wanna lend a hand

Send me."

This call to service heaved and bumped across social media, now South Africa's most influential medium, as South Africans shouted #SendMe.

There were lots that are important in Ramaphosa's triumphant first state of the nation address. We will digest and chew on it for many weeks and months.

But on this night, what has been unleashed is a sense of building and not of only opposing. Suddenly, I want to lend a hand, to be sent. I haven't felt that for the past decade. And that is fundamentally liberating for a citizen who wants her country to work.