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It is a sombre nation gripped by low morale that will watch Sona 2023 on TV

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Prof Michael le Cordeur is Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch. He is deputy chair of the Stigting vir die bemagtiging deur Afrikaans.

The ANC is not going to save South Africa. Maybe it’s time to revisit the UDF; to launch a political movement that has one purpose: the well-being of all South Africans so that we can all be truly free at last.

I grew up in the poor neighbourhood of Verlate Kloof in Wellington when South Africa was still a Whites-Only country. Last Christmas I drove through the streets again and thought back with nostalgia to the street preacher who used to bring Good Tidings on Christmas Day on the corner of our street. He always closed with the hymn Jesus kom weer (Jesus will return), Hallelujah.

A dream

Later my brothers and I joined the Boy Scouts. It was an opportunity to learn vital skills and to explore the country. We were eventually promoted to Springbok Scouts. For me this meant that I could represent South Africa at the World Jamboree in Norway. For the first time I would interact socially with white, Indian and black South Africans. I would get to know the world and its nations; a life-changing experience which would shake me out of my political naivety.

Back home the youth uprisings of 1976 awaited me. Given my political awakening, I got involved in student politics the following year when I went to study teaching at the “University of the Working Class” (UWC).

Here I befriended student leaders like Danny Titus, Russel Botman and Cecyl Esau. Students regularly met in the cafeteria, sang freedom songs and listened to Struggle leaders like Allan Boesak and Basil Kivedo.

The role of Afrikaans

Kivedo, at that stage a lecturer at UWC and a member of MK (Umkhonto weSizwe), told me many years later: “I led the protest in Afrikaans, I was arrested by the Security Police in Afrikaans, I was tortured in Afrikaans, but fought back in Afrikaans.” Afrikaans and many non-Africans thus also played an important role in the freedom Struggle.

We tried to imagine what Nelson Mandela would look like (information about Madiba and his leadership corps was forbidden). The march led by our vice-chancellor, Professor Richard van der Ross, and academics like professors Jakes Gerwel, Jaap Durand and Jairam Reddy, is still fresh in my mind. Not just because of its historic nature, but also because I had a close brush with death.

Hope fades

My participation in this march was born from the dream that we would have a democracy one day. We looked forward with great expectation to the day that Mandela and other political prisoners would walk free to lead us to the promised land. It kept the hope of freedom and a new future alive.

During the Mandela government this hope remained alive. His government of national unity at least admitted that the future of South Africa was in the hands of ALL its citizens.

Read in Daily Maverick:The other side of Sona – Suffering Nation, Seething Nation

But after the death of Mandela, the hope has faded. First Thabo Mbeki dashed the ideal of a non-racial South Africa with his “I am an African” speech. This denial of the role that non-Africans had played in the freedom Struggle upset me so much that I wrote an article titled “I am also an African” (August 2006). It was then already clear what would follow, we were just too naïve to realise it.

State Capture

Thereafter we had to endure State Capture for a decade during the Zuma administration, which announced its corrupt government by saying it would “rule until Jesus comes back”. Words that dripped with arrogance. The same arrogance could be seen during the ANC’s recent election conference. To a question about why the conference was starting so late, Pule Mabe, ANC spokesperson, replied: “This is our conference.” Meaning: we can do as we like and no one can prescribe to us how to act.

Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected. He could hardly hide his joy with his Bloemfontein declaration of 8 January: “There is no place for racism in South Africa.” He repeated what I had learnt 40 years ago at UWC. His party must sweep before its own door, however.


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The ANC, once a party with the noblest aim of creating a home for all South Africans, is today a Blacks-Only party. Gradually the ANC’s non-racial ethos has been replaced by a view that black Africans are seen as more South African than others. The exclusively black Top Seven and only three non-black individuals in the NEC 80 proves this.

Thus I do not get excited about Cyril’s re-election, nor by how many Cyril supporters were elected to the Top Seven or the NEC. As a matter of fact, the infighting between the Cyril faction and the RET faction leaves me cold (to quote Jimmy Kruger when he heard that Steve Biko had died in custody).

No plan

Let us thus be honest with ourselves. The ANC is not going to save South Africa or Eskom. Not because they can’t, but because a broken Eskom is of more use because it creates an environment in which corruption can flourish. That the majority of South Africans live in misery due to the corruption at Eskom does not bother them.

The few who try are undermined by comrades who have never experienced the effect of load shedding themselves. It was recently reported that many ministers seldom respond to emails or enquiries. How the ANC is going to fix our broken country is unclear to me. I see no plan.

To me it is clear that Ramaphosa’s first priority lies with the ANC and its fragile unity. This he wants to protect at all costs, even at the cost of the country of which he is the president.

Is Ramaphosa going to grow a spine, change his hesitant management style and act like a head of state? I doubt it. After thousands of pages of evidence provided by the Zondo Commission, I see no arrests.

Stand up

It is time that we all get involved again in the future of our country. Talk to your friends. Let us return to the days when we had to do everything for ourselves because the government of the day preferred to look the other way when we needed them most.

Get involved at your child’s school. This year, new governing bodies will be elected. Revive community organisations like the Boy Scouts. Start a clean-up campaign in your neighbourhood. Each of us can play a role in our community.

Maybe it is time to revisit the UDF; to launch a political movement that has one purpose: the wellbeing of all South Africans, so that we can all be truly free at last. This time we must teach our children that democracy is not a gift from God. It is a lifestyle based on empathy and mutual respect for each other.

This is something we must all build together. Day by day.

State of the Nation

Of more importance is what the President says in his State of the Nation Address (Sona). Or rather, what promises he makes this time. Like in 2019 when he promised that each child would receive a tablet.

As an educator I hope that he will not keep quiet about the 2,700 schools where learners must still use pit latrines. Or that he will actually address the dire shortage of classrooms. After all, education receives the greatest share of the government budget.

Read in Daily Maverick:After Covid, South African education is at a crossroads as we enter 2023

Today three years ago I pleaded in this column that promises should be followed by action. I repeat my pleas of 13 February 2020, when, as I said then, “there is a sombre atmosphere in South Africa”.

It is now three years later. Nothing has changed. On the contrary, the country is literally and figuratively shrouded in darkness. The morale of South Africans is the lowest I have ever experienced.

When millions of South Africans sit down in front of their TV sets on Thursday to listen to the State of the Nation Address, it will be in the hope that we shall hear something we can hold on to. Something to give us hope again.

And may Jesus return. Hallelujah. DM

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