Defend Truth


Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Mission accomplished. The Zuma era came to an end on Valentine’s Day 2018 and the last vestiges of his “State Capture” buddies are being shown the door by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Not everyone is satisfied with the Cabinet reshuffle but it is a very involved political dynamic. The juggling act by President Ramaphosa should be commended. The core of the Gupta cronies are gone, no less than 10 of them. A few others, for political considerations have been shuffled elsewhere. The President could never have satisfied everyone but he has a team and now its shoulder to the wheel.

I do, however, want to point out that of all the stakeholders giving their respective inputs and analysis, the input from Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) was the most disappointing. The fact that they only commented on the economic cluster and how it might strengthen the economy is precisely what’s wrong with our business sector. They are only concerned with profits and how they can benefit from a strong economy.

No one will argue against a strong growing economy because we all understand the concomitant effects of such but the governance of South Africa is much more than just that. It’s also about social welfare, poverty alleviation and inequality. Who leads these ministries should be of equal concern. I say it again and again, poverty and inequality are not only government problems. It is a problem for all of us and until we accept this simple fact, Mzansi will never go forward and trump the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. So yes, do concern yourselves with what is important for your particular sector but please, take ownership of the other challenges. Otherwise, a social compact will remain a pipe dream.

As Martin Luther King stood in front of the Lincoln memorial and spoke these words, “Free at last”, he was referring African Americans to a time when they too were subjugated and discriminated against. He was saying that there is hope. Hope that we can all live together black and white, that we have a common destiny. That we can sit together around the camp fire and sing that old Negro song, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.

I say that same commonness exist in our current political climate in South Africa. Let Freedom ring.

The most important thing emerging from this arduous road over the last nine years is that our democracy is strong. What we had fought for stood the test of time. The supreme law, our Constitution has prevailed. Our courts have not only played their crucial part in defending our democracy but also have directed the other two arms of the state, that being the legislature and the executive, when they too experienced missteps.

Our opposition parties played their role in the National Assembly and have participated in the portfolio committee’s function to ensure accountability. The healthy tension between the three arms of the state must be commended and separation of powers supported. Chapter Nine institutions too have come to the party in many respects and in small measure the Public Protector’s office.

The ANC now must take stock about how we managed to get to such a point where we had to contend with a rogue president. For failure to do such introspection will cost the party dearly in years to come.

Some opposition parties, however, are eroding our democracy by turning Parliament into a circus. The EFF’s churlish behaviour is chipping away at our achievements of democracy. The dignity associated with the decorum of the National Assembly is also about instilling a sense of responsibility and pride in our institutions. It is no wonder that some of our young people think it is okay to plunder and pillage when engaged in legitimate protest action. H&M’s is an example of this. Why? Because they observe that’s how you do things in the National Assembly, fight and misbehave in order to make legitimate demands.

Our democracy is strong and it fills me with pride. People of all races stood on the streets of our country protesting against the Zuma administration. Civil society dragged government to court to account for some wrongdoing. People of all races marched on the union building. Together we will keep our democracy strong and our Constitution intact. I do though want to caution that the very Constitution after 25 years, must be revisited and certain clauses reviewed but that’s a discussion for another time.

The immediate next mission at hand, as I have written before, is for a clean-up campaign. And I hear many who say that CR must now be circumspect and not simply wield the axe insofar as Zuma cronies are concerned. Rather continuity, experience and skills sets must also be taken into consideration. The Cabinet reshuffle is a welcome relief though and a step in the right direction.

My only criticism is that young people were not uppermost in President CR’s mind. It can only stand us all in good stead for the future if we can have more young people in the executive. One only has to look at France, Canada, Obama etc. These are all very young leaders of major countries and economies; we must address this shortfall come 2019, Mr President.

The ANC will most likely increase its majority come the 2019 elections and I also make bold that taking back the lost Metro’s in 2021 is simply administrative and academic.

To keep this sort of momentum we require all hands on deck. The judiciary, legislature, Chapter Nine institutions, business and civil society all needs to do their job to keep the governing party in check and accountable.

If there’s one hard lesson we have all learned it’s that if we become complacent like after the 1994 elections, we all give space for a Jacob Zuma to emerge. Never again.

Rather, we must sing, let freedom ring.

And as Martin Luther King said, let it ring in every homestead, every village and every hamlet, from every province and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, protestants and catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last! DM


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