VOICES
18/05/2018 11:59 SAST | Updated 18/05/2018 11:59 SAST

Why Ramaphosa’s U-Turn On 'Thuma Mina' Is A Big Mistake

Now it belongs to the populism of the ANC head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, rather than to Ramaphosa's new dawn.

Rogan Ward/ Reuters

Damn!

President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken one of the coolest and most resonant campaigns of his presidency and given it to the ANC to use as an election campaign.

The idea of "thuma mina" or "send me", which comes from a Hugh Masekela song, has galvanised South Africans to be part of the restructuring of the nation after the devastation of the Jacob Zuma presidency.

To end his state of the nation speech, Ramaphosa used words from Masakela's song:

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

It was the most quoted part of the speech, as it tapped into the vein of South Africa's ethos of service and it marked Ramaphosa as a servant leader after the kleptocracy of Zuma. Ordinary South Africans pledged their support with the trending hashtag #ThumaMina, but it got bigger than that. South African businesses pledged their support in line with the idea of service.

AFP/Getty Images
President Cyril Ramaphosa (C) walks on an early morning from Guguletu township to Athlone Stadium.

Given that the private sector can often be self-interested with an eye rarely on anything other than the bottom line, "thuma mina" opened up a rich seam for Ramaphosa to mine, as he seeks the sector's support for an investment drive the country desperately needs to shore up economic growth and employment.

The ANC is no longer a movement of the people but a governing party with a great history and a checkered present. Ramaphosa should have kept "thuma mina" as a campaign of his presidency.

But now, Ramaphosa has gifted "thuma mina" to the ANC, which adopted it in a party campaign launched in Tembisa on Friday morning. It has turned into an anodyne campaign for service delivery, rather than the exciting idea it was when Ramaphosa began it — a rallying call to service by and with citizens, rather than for citizens.

And its face is now going to belong to the ANC head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, who is a charismatic and populist leader in the ANC, but not a very credible one — or one known for long service or leaving an effective legacy in any of the portfolios in which he has served.

MUJAHID SAFODIEN via Getty Images
Fikile Mbalula.

In his first speech on the campaign, Mbalula tied "thuma mina" to the expropriation of land — which is a mistake, as one is a unifying campaign, and the other is a divisive one.

In addition, the promise of serving the people is not bad at all, but the ANC has so hashed up the idea of service delivery that "thuma mina" is now destined to wither on the vine — like all other ANC campaigns, including "batho pele", or "people first" — which has almost always turned into a "people last" reality. In addition, the way that "service delivery" is used is nearly always in the context of "service delivery protest" — as something which has not been achieved.

Judging by the reception of Ramaphosa's speech as he launched "thuma mina" as a political campaign on Friday morning, the ANC would be better served running on an anti-corruption ticket. He won the greatest applause when he spoke out against corruption.

The ANC is no longer a movement of the people, but a governing party with a great history and a checkered present. Ramaphosa should have kept "thuma mina" as a campaign of his presidency.