Defend Truth


Once the SONA red carpet has been rolled up and the toasts are over, the reality of life in South Africa still remains


Busani Ngcaweni is Director-General of the National School of Government, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address was big on dreams, dreams of high-speed trains, new cities, affordable data, safer streets... but all of this means little when you’ve been without water for six days.

Infuriated by water-shedding since last Friday, the great lady who birthed me some four-plus decades ago this month called and said: “Son, before you get busy with those funny dresses in Parliament, please call eThekwini Water and tell them your mother and her neighbours have been without water for six days now”.

Like a typical good child that I am, I was immediately on call, trying to locate the fellows in the water department of the second-largest city (by size and budget) in South Africa.

As it turns out, while you read this intervention, this gracefully ageing old lady of mine (and my structurally-unemployed brothers) remain without water; at least until the next summer, and even a Jojo tank option will not help. The city must restore the water supply even if it is by sending in water tankers.

What an irony! Or coincidence, perhaps?

As expected, this vital and lovely grandmother of many knew the imminent State of the Nation Address (SONA) would sharply address such matters as our people (yes, our people — those who give the electoral mandate) being infuriated by water interruptions and other failures of basic service delivery.

She has, many times, placed random phone calls to “prick your conscience about our real situation here in our deteriorating municipality so that you can tell your bosses in Parliament to intervene”.

She just won’t buy the “three arms of state” and the “three spheres of government” explanation. “Uhulumeni (government) must ensure consistent and quality service delivery. Savota phela (we have voted) …”.

I bet she is right. These are just vanity arrangements. The people look up to government (in whatever legal manifestation) to deliver services.

Like her neighbours, she watches TV news, listens to news on Ukhozi FM and reads Isolezwe. They know as much about governance failures in municipalities as those who read Business Day, tune in to 702 and watch eNCA.

And so, the SONA went on to deal with such matters.

President Cyril Ramaphosa gave a clear instruction: We must individually and collectively organise in a manner that gives consistent and quality services to all the people of South Africa. We must deliver quality education, affordable electricity, safer communities, decent jobs, affordable and quality healthcare, integrated human settlements, affordable data and fair trade with our neighbours and the rest of the world.

The president said we must be ethical, responsive and accountable. He offered to sign performance agreements with his executive. He vouched for integrated planning that ensures all spheres act in concert and efficiently.

He pledged more police officers to keep our streets safe and secure. To abused women and children, he pledged solidarity and practical interventions to combat gender-based violence.

To the corrupt and fallible, there will be severe consequences. To those who live in squalor in places such as Khayelitsha in the Western Cape and Alexandra in Gauteng, there will be new cities, better and integrated transport networks. To the performing artists, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni had earlier this year promised a new State Theatre.

All this will be a dream come true for the majority of citizens; a dream of a better life for all. Dreams are fuelled by imagination — a peep into the future we choose. Thus, the president spoke of a high-speed train between Cape Town and Limpopo.

All this through fiscal prudence, partnerships, collaboration, social compacts and capability development across the state and social partners.

Eventually, it is the SONA’s seven priorities that the people will remember and hold this sixth administration accountable against.

Indeed, pomp and ceremony matter too. We are a nation in the making after all — struggling to break from the yoke of colonialism so we can redefine ourselves as Africans. In dress and drink choices, we labour on in this dream of “being ourselves”, even if it is just a smokescreen to conceal conspicuous consumption and the dream of trending on social media.

Did you see that the masses prevailed? The post-colony needs a semblance of “Afrocentricity” to be legitimate; imbongi has returned.

For many, he asserted the constitutional aspiration of a nation united in its diversity by celebrating the KhoiSan language. For others in the streets of social media, he said “iPirates iyawina, qhude qhude, noma ningathini!

What a spectacle, in the mould of the making of the rainbow nation as our sages contemplated.

We are truly living a dream of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa, bigots like Steve Hofmeyr notwithstanding. They are miniature in relation to our imagined socially cohesive society that is striving to build a united nation.

Back to the drinks and dresses. You see what the old lady from Inanda knows from TV is funny dresses (she is trying to have a cataract removed) with feathers, fluff and flare. She thinks sometimes people try too hard to grab red carpet headlines even if it means objectifying themselves.

She hasn’t seen anything yet until she lands at Mam’Rubby’s place, the post-SONA sanctuary. There the devil has domicile. Here we seek thee with the longest horns. We judge not, but party more.

But Lord, the standards have dropped. In the streets of Parliament, according to the old lady, a semblance of a sense of occasion must be maintained. No funny boob tubes and dusty Doc Martens must enter the sacred gates of the legislature. She should have seen the Sea Point joint where decency has met the incinerator. It’s like we have nothing to lose at all.

Debauchery is a given order. This is where we outlive syphilis, gonorrhoea, HIV and inequality.

At Mam’Rubby, the populist DJs moer a concoction of dance hits, hip-hop and singaphezulu kind of Struggle songs. “What a sense of occasion”, I have always thought, in awe of these resident DJs of Cubana. They are always on point and contemporaneous.

From newspaper editors to opposition party leaders, they always outdo themselves, getting everyone on to the dance floor. How I wish my mother’s tap could flow like these bar tabs. There’ll be peace in my hood. Yet I know she’ll frown at these purple velvet ball gowns people are wearing here. In all my partying life, I’ve never seen this. At Cubana, credit cards matter, comrades; not those nasty accreditation cards. We must leave those at home.

But I’m being hypocritical now. Let me stop right here, for nobody judges the grandpas in polyester suits acting up like monied “blessers”, yet they are men of straw, slaying with ciders and cheap champagne.

The new dawn is upon us. The people expect a better life; they actually deserve it. The era of bling and pilot projects is over. The public wants to see modesty in our public life. They want implementation to be accelerated, not endless pilots and expensive experiments. Yes, it may be legal to buy luxury SUVs, but the people are now using the moral standard to gauge our attitude towards the bleak macroeconomic environment.

Khawuleza (hurry up), the people are singing. Slaying with service delivery must be our zeitgeist. Need we remind everyone that the struggle was to restore the dignity of our people through cultural and economic liberation.

Let us build the South Africa we want and deserve to live in. That is the dream that President Ramaphosa spoke about in the SONA; the dreams of the people who drink safe water and are dressed in the glory of decent work, safety and security.

The cultural iconography of bling and indifference must be replaced with the iconography of wealth transfer in order to close the poverty and inequality predicament. DM


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