Our country is on a dancing jam inspired by our departed music icon Hugh Masekela’s dazzling song Thuma Mina/Send Me, as was quoted by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his maiden State of the Nation Address, last Friday. In corporate corridors; lecture halls; taxi ranks; stokvels; factories; beer halls; social media and elsewhere, the masses are blasting the song as a call to collectively confront the persisting challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The song signifies the “new dawn” the president spoke about during his inspirational State of the Nation Address (SONA).
It has brought back a sense of belonging to the vast of majority of our people, who were despondent and felt dejected, angrily protesting at the mortgaging of our country to the Gupta family, which undermined our sovereignty and held back the wheels of change; and prosperity for all.
One family in the semi-rural outskirts of Durban, in Inchanga, was glued to the TV screen on Friday evening, when President Ramaphosa delivered the State of the Nation Address, which represented the new “transition”, after former President Jacob Zuma was recalled from the highest office in the land by the governing ANC.
This family of eight living in a dilapidated shack was excited about the prospects of a new dawn and immense opportunities to be brought by the new administration. The family’s head, Ms NomaKhongolose Luthuli, was retrenched on 31 January 2017 from Rainbow Chickens, outside Hammarsdale. The single mother of seven worked at Rainbow for almost 18 years, a loyal and committed employee. She was among the 1,350 workers retrenched due to the influx of cheap chicken imports from Brazil, the US and European Union countries. It’s over a year now that Ms Luthuli has been sitting, unemployed. She had given up on looking for work.
Her neighbour Shosholoza Zuma, a security guard at the majestic Pavilion Shopping Mall, not far from poverty-ravaged and over-populated Chesterville township in Durban, excitedly told her to watch the SONA, because he had high hopes, and urged her to do the same. Initially Ms Luthuli was not keen to watch.
Her reasons are understandable: she had joined the reserve army of the unemployed ravaged by squalour and poverty in Inchanga and surrounding areas. She has been struggling to support her daughter Mayibuye Luthuli, 23, who has been unemployed for the past 48 months, a qualified electrical engineer from Mangosuthu University of Technology.
Her son Freedom Luthuli was retrenched at Dunlop when his union, Numsa, went on a protected strike in 2013. He survives by selling vegetables at a nearby taxi rank, and sometimes complements his takings by washing taxis.
The Luthulis haven’t had a “good story to tell”, it has been a life of hardship and suffering, just like other families in similar conditions.
When President Ramaphosa approached the podium to address the nation, there was loud silence in the make-shift TV room of the Luthuli family. The family’s socio-economic burden was placed on President Ramaphosa’s shoulders; in the eyes of the family, the president was their Messiah who was going to lift them up from a life of despair and deliver them into the Promised Land of a better life.
It was by no mistake or sheer magic that the family ululated and burst into song when the president announced that “at the centre of our national agenda in 2018 is the creation of jobs, especially for the youth… one of the initiatives will be to convene a jobs summit within the next few months to align the efforts of every sector and every stakeholder behind the imperative of job creation”.
What put a smile on NomaKhongolose’s face was a bold statement by Ramaphosa that “expropriation of land without compensation” will be implemented. For her and her family, this would restore their dignity. The Luthulis were forcefully removed from their ancestral land after the heinous 1913 Land Act by the apartheid regime made sure that “the South African native found himself (was), not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth”, as once exclaimed by the ANC’s founding Secretary-General, Sol Plaatje.
At Rainbow where she used to work, the massive hectares of land used to belong to the Luthuli clan, and she agreed with the president when he said “we will accelerate our land redistribution programme not only to redress a grave historical injustice, but also to bring more producers into the agricultural sector and to make more land available for cultivation”.
Through a co-operative, she is looking to venture into a farming business, despite the fact that the agricultural sector (like most sectors in SA) has a racialised and monopolistic ownership and control structure, with a few companies or people controlling the entire value chain.
She was further excited to hear that “government will honour its undertaking to set aside at least 30% of public procurement to SMMEs, co-operatives and township and rural enterprises”.
This, according to Ms NomaKhongolose Luthuli, will stimulate business growth in the township, and systemically confront poverty and inequality, as well as help ease the socio-economic burden. Furthermore, this will help to significantly decrease the number of households that have been dependent on a social or pension grant for survival. Already, it is estimated that a third of our population lives on social grants.
What further excited Ms Luthuli was that there was no jeering or uproar from the opposition benches, especially from the self-styled “economic freedom fighters” often intent on grandstanding or interrupting the sitting president. Nor did she see the Speaker of the National Assembly calling on the bouncers in white shirts to physically remove unruly Members of Parliament.
President Ramaphosa quoted the right lyrics and has written the right soundtrack. He has produced a great song of hope and kept the country on the dance floor. Indeed, the masses are singing from the pulse of his SONA message: “Thuma Mina/Send Me”. DM
Castro Ngobese works for the Gauteng Provincial Government and writes in his personal capacity
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