Voices

Mondli Makhanya: We should celebrate our democratic rituals

2020-02-17 00:00

Sometimes the universe just comes along and slaps you with some perspective.

A chance conversation with a Congo-born cab driver in Cape Town did just that to me.

Now in his thirties, the man was forced to become a child soldier at the age of 10.

He did and witnessed things that he does not want to remember; and those he remembers, he does not want to talk about.

Like many of his countrymen, he eventually fled the Democratic Republic of Congo’s never-ending conflict.

He was one of the lucky ones who did not end up in a refugee camp.

He made his way to South Africa, obtained refugee status and began to make a life here.

Although he thinks of going back home “if my country needs me”, he loves the freedom he enjoys here and says that, if he was younger, he would even enlist in the SA National Defence Force because he misses military life.

South Africa, for him, is a country of hope and opportunity, and he even brushes aside xenophobia as “just one of those things”.

While the Soweto derby-level of anticipation has been fuelled by the EFF’s antics recently, most of us genuinely want to hear the president provide a vision, concrete plans and some inspiration

It was a good perspective to take into the state of the nation address (Sona) the following day, where the biggest threats were juvenile theatrics from the EFF and a disappointing speech from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

We moan about a lot of things, rightfully so, but sometimes we should pause and remember that this country does work.

And we have our rituals.

In terms of those rituals, the year begins with the population looking to the ANC’s January 8 statement, read by the party’s president, to get a sense of what government has in store for us.

When he does read the long statement, we are disappointed.

Ritual one, ticked.

Ritual two is the ANC’s national executive committee lekgotla, where the party’s “brains trust” gathers to deliberate on the year.

We await the outcomes with great anticipation, and then we’re disappointed and shocked about the lack of direction and the party’s distance from reality.

Ritual two, ticked.

We then move on to ritual three, the Cabinet lekgotla. Nothing emerges from there and we are told the results will form the basis of the Sona at the beginning of February.

Ritual three, ticked.

Then comes the big one, ritual four. No matter how many times they have been let down by the paucity of content in previous Sonas, South Africans count down to this day.

While the Soweto derby-level of anticipation has been fuelled by the EFF’s antics recently, most of us genuinely want to hear the president provide a vision, concrete plans and some inspiration.

Ramaphosa walked into the joint sitting of the National Assembly and the national council of provinces burdened by 58.8 million expectations.

Disappointment is usually the result. Sonas are sketchy report-backs, repetitions from previous years and plans about plans.

In announcing the plans about plans, the president then tells the captive audience that the finance minister will give further details during ritual five, the budget speech, later in the month.

Ritual four, ticked.

Ritual four leads to a subritual, which is when politicians mill around in the media precinct marketing themselves to journalists and giving their opinions on the speech.

Opposition members decry the lack of details and the absence of vision, while members of the majority party wax lyrical about how the president is the best thing that has happened to our country since Aromat was invented.

Then everyone goes away and gets drunk.

This year’s Sona was no different. Much was expected of Ramaphosa, who has the unenviable task of repairing the wreckage left behind by the outpatient of the Cuban medical system.

The fact that he has excelled in the art of disappointment has not stopped South Africans from hoping that he will shed his inertia.

Even former Durban mayor Zandile Gumede took a break from preparing for her corruption trial to come and hear for herself what the president has in store for the nation.

Ramaphosa walked into the joint sitting of the National Assembly and the national council of provinces burdened by 58.8 million expectations.

Apart from very welcome pronouncements on power generation, a smart city, new universities and spurring entrepreneurship, the speech was a laundry list of recaps and promises.

Because he is compelled to pack the speech with as much content as possible, he has to reach deep into the hat to find rabbits of all shapes, colours and sizes.

The occasional tepid round of applause from his own benches reflected just how inspirational Ramaphosa’s speech was

And so he told the nation that government, which just collapsed an airline and is presiding over a plethora of failed entities, would create a state bank.

Yes, the same government that is battling to balance the books in a faltering economy will establish a sovereign wealth fund.

There was the usual tosh to appease delegates of the ANC’s national general council – updates on land expropriation without compensation, constitutional amendment processes and the looming disaster that is National Health Insurance.

The occasional tepid round of applause from his own benches reflected just how inspirational Ramaphosa’s speech was.

He may have missed the chance to inspire South Africans on Thursday, but we need to look beyond that.

Many believe the Sona is ostentatious and unnecessary pomp.

Some say the speech should be read and televised from the Union Buildings or Tuynhuys. This is folly.

The Sona is an important aspect of our democratic rituals.

Like the five-yearly inauguration, it reminds us – with the judiciary present – that we are a constitutional democracy.

In future, when the ANC is no longer in power, the rituals will be replaced by ones other parties introduce.

But this one must remain our annual celebration of ourselves.

Others are not so fortunate.


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March 29 2020