Defend Truth


Dear President Ramaphosa, you are probably happy the youth are leaving so there’s no Arab Spring in SA


Dr Shakira Choonara is an award-winning public health practitioner and activist, and was the 2017 Woman of the Year in Health in South Africa. This piece is written in her personal capacity and represents her personal views only, not those of any entity or organisation.

The future envisioned and fought for by the youth of 1976 is gone. Forty years later, you and your comrades have taken away the future of young South Africans.

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa and Comrades,

I doubt you will read this, I doubt you will care, I doubt you will or can do anything, but I do want to raise my voice in any way I possibly can.

I am sitting in Nairobi right now as I pen this. I am in awe of the vast development of this city. I travelled here as a young student close to 10 years ago, and at the time the tallest building and viewpoint was the 29-storey Kenyatta International Centre.

Fast-forward to today: if you travel through Nairobi, new highways have been built; there is a standard gauge railway which connects the most beautiful destinations; there are skyscrapers everywhere; there are investor meetings – and it’s such a buzz.

Ten years ago, huge meetings were held in Cape Town or Johannesburg to bring in tourism and showcase our country, but our draconian visa processes have led the hustle and bustle to either Rwanda or Kenya, which have hardly any visa restrictions in place.

In stark contrast to the country you and your comrades are running at the moment, other countries are being built, not being broken down – whether you travel in Accra and see the massive development underway, or walk along the new bridge in Dar es Salaam, or walk around safely in Kigali, or stroll around the newly-built impressive government precinct in Gaborone.

This is what’s even more heart-breaking for me: South Africa, a country with infrastructure I would compare to highly developed countries, is now in tatters. 

The last time I saw any infrastructure development or anything of national pride being built was during the 2010 Fifa World Cup. Forget infrastructure improvements or new developments, you have not even maintained infrastructure.

A caller on Bruce Whitfield’s radio show a few evenings ago put it quite aptly: “Our taxes are increasing, the state’s budget is higher than before, but we are not getting any returns.” 

You’re definitely not a good politician, but at least I think you’re a good enough businessman for this to make sense.

My work in global health and youth development takes me all across the world and even when South African Airways (SAA) was dwindling, I still proudly used the airline. I loved the sound of the video at the start of the flight, the wholesome food which was often a piece of home (our butter, our tea, our juices), and the friendly announcement by the air hostess – “hamba kahle”. 

My heart swelled as I walked through OR Tambo International Airport each time. OR Tambo is described as the “gateway to the African continent”; you used to see all of our SAA flights lined up at the airport – it was a symbol of national pride and a strong economic footprint.

As I bumped into tourists everywhere, they would state that SAA was reliable and that it was their first preference. Recently, a few colleagues from New Zealand and Australia were telling me how inconvenient it is to travel to our country in the absence of SAA. Another colleague mentioned how travel from Zambia to other destinations is now a complete nightmare without SAA.

Close to 28 million passengers pass through the airport every year, probably unconscious of why the airport was named after our great leader OR Tambo. I have a blurry recollection of reading a board or sign that the airport is named after him to celebrate his legacy and because he was such a frequent traveller.

No offence to FlySafair, but this is all I see at OR Tambo International these days, with a few other flights here and there. The economic hub, gone; national pride, gone.

When I walk through the newly refurbished Bole International Airport in Ethiopia, it’s impressive, as are all of the Ethiopian Airlines flights which line the airport. Every plane has a name – “Victoria Falls’’, “Pyramids of Giza”, not to mention the airline has recorded a profit of close to $937-million. As I touch down in Kenya, it’s the same.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for another state-owned airline, heaven help us, nothing will come of it, but rather drawing your attention to the reality that you and your comrades have left no future, no national pride either for my generation or the next.

Instead, it’s all in your stomachs, fancy cars and luxurious homes, you have all eaten well at our expense. With the demise of SAA, you have failed South Africa, southern Africa and Africa as a whole.

In the Constitution (which you fought so hard for), you commit to progressively realise rights such as health, education and access to sanitation. If a scale existed for this, you would be on the regressive end.  

Let’s take this further: the role of the state involves upholding the Constitution, supporting economic growth, and serving and protecting citizens. None of this is happening, and you’re holding us ransom to pay taxes to a government that cannot provide services and a government that is forcing us to be reliant on Eskom – we are paying more for less services.

Again, aren’t you a businessman? Does this make sense to you? Is there even a purpose to you and your comrades any more? What exactly do you do for us?

I still recall when you started your term, you were on about “digital revolution” blah, blah, blah, and even set up a commission for this. It was around 2019 if I am not mistaken.

A few years later, as a young professional working remotely, I simply cannot function while in South Africa, I simply cannot work. I cannot connect to calls, I cannot even respond to an email or access a Microsoft Teams shared folder or document. This means that as young South Africans, not only are we competing for limited employment opportunities in this country, we are unable to participate in the global economy.

I have not collected any statistics, but what I can tell you is that almost every young professional I come across in the country has already left or is in the process of applying for work permits elsewhere. Do you and your comrades not want a skilled youth workforce to help build this country? You are doing nothing to make it attractive for us to stay.

Then again, you are probably happy that we are leaving so that there’s no Arab Spring to hold you accountable.

I have two other questions to ask you. What exactly is your vision for this country besides containing the factions in your political party? In all your time at the helm, I am not sure I ever understood this.  

We knew that Nelson Mandela was there to unite us and support a better South Africa, Thabo Mbeki was keen on economic growth and building pan-Africanism. Then there’s Jacob Zuma and yourself, we are usually at a loss for words on this. Second, what legacy do you want to leave behind when you show up as a president to demonstrate how to wear masks instead of dealing with the national electricity crisis?

A few weeks ago a question was posed to me about what I would change in order to make South Africa a better place. I said without hesitation, “I would change the entire government, every single person, it is time for change.” 

The future envisioned and fought for by the youth of 1976 is gone. Forty years later, you and your comrades have taken away the future of young South Africans. You took it all away from us. The worst is that you took away our greatness and our national pride.

Trust me, I cannot wait for the next elections and my only hope is that South Africans will not vote for you. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Derek Jones says:

    We share your outrage Shakira. How do we fix it?

  • William Kelly says:

    And then you read about how the very citizens, who bear the brunt of this abuse, threaten to ‘abstain’ from voting as if it were a punishment to the cANCer. Until the citizens decide they want change they will get more of the same, good and hard. And the only outcome to that is the uprising you allude to, because the cANCer is seen as the only option for government.
    This is the great failure of our time.

  • Rommany Allen says:


  • Ritchie Morris says:

    Would be good if this article had mass press distribution for a wider audience.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    An excellent article, the more so as it comes out on the very day that Squirrel, with container loads of weaponry and 120 senior security personnel, is on his way to talk with Putin.

    So indeed, Shakira we share your outrage and anger.

    • Jim F. says:

      I had to laugh when the inept security contingent led by their fearless leader, General Wally, were described as “highly trained”. Probably on the same level as the SA embassy staff in Poland. Funny, I have a sneaking suspicion Poland does not like us, wonder why? Well, besides Wally’s entirely foreseeable race card, however. At least he is aptly named

  • What's Happening says:

    Powerful writing.

  • Linkey Moodley says:

    Shakira, you called the President a businessman! By getting free shares in large corporations because of being politically connected, doesn’t necessarily qualify one to earn the title of being a businessman! In fact, an opportunist would be a more befitting title! I can’t even believe he’s got a law degree! His cohorts and himself did a damn good job of bringing this country to ruins. They cannot manage a running nose leave alone running the country!

  • rmrobinson says:

    Breaks my heart to read this.

  • Sam Shu says:

    Heartbreakingly correct 😢

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    A heartfelt cry from our youth which
    resonates very strongly in all of us, including the many that have their children living and earning a living overseas. With 70 odd % of youth unemployment, the self-serving, useless, predatory and corrupt criminal syndicate that is the anc masquerading as a government, is totally to blame. This pathetic incompetent mob do everything possible to discourage job creation, investment, a better life for all (what a sick joke) etc by following the failed and miserable communist state control dogma, punitive labour laws, over the top BEE directives etc. Everything these morons touch, as witnessed by our failed SOE’s, results in failure and bankruptcy. Total masters of theft, breakage and destruction! Linked Moodley is 100% right – Cyril, a businessman???? All this long suffering country and highly abused population need is deliverance from the putrid anc.

  • Sean Kerr says:

    Get the youth to vote, get stuck in, and make a difference. Countries don’t fix themselves. I agree this country has failed the youth but lets remember the genesis of Youth Day. Change can happen but it needs passionate, hard working youth to make it happen.

    • Gretha Erasmus says:

      Well said

      Countries don’t fix themselves, active citizens need to fix them

      And not the Arab spring we keep being threatened with by CR and JM and their cronies. The Arab spring just mobilised angry uneducated youth to destroy stuff, none of those cou tries were better off post “spring”.
      What we need is active involved citizens who get people to vote for a different political leadership, a complete overhaul
      Not this staid, inept kleptocracy that we copied from our 0.3% trading partners the Russians

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Very sad and very true. Unless people are able to see beyond race, focus honestly at what is staring them in the face today and vote with their heads, South Africa is doomed.

  • J dW says:

    SA’s most valuable export? Taxpayers!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Say it again, louder and concisely. And vote for Songezo Zibi!

  • Enid Pretorius says:

    I beg my son to immigrate to any other country as I do not want my grand children growing up in this corrupt country but he is such an optimist and says it will get better. I truly pray that all South Africans use their intelligence to vote correctly next year to get this wonderful country back on track together as one – simunye! working hand in hand, we cannot do this as individuals.

    • John Counihan says:

      Trouble is that the vast majority of South Africans are still uneducated (ANC strategically committed to keeping them that way?) and unsophistocated , and will vote the KFC and/or T-shirt way. Democracy works in Scandinavia etc where education levels are fairly equal, and votes are considered, educated decisions. Are enough of our impoverished people conscious of the fact that the ANC is their enemy, and that they need to be banished, chased over the cliff?

  • Brian Doyle says:

    A great summary of where South africa finds itself under the wasteful and generally corrupt ANC. All Ramaphosa does when another of the vast myriad of problems or reports of corruption comes up is to appoint another commission

  • Bruce Danckwerts says:

    Apart from voting the ANC and the EFF out of power, South Africa needs some new IDEAS. Democracies all over the world have failed to find effective solutions to the problem of utilities. Privatization to commercial businesses hasn’t delivered. I believe S.A. should study the work of the late Elinor Ostrom who studied these, what she called Common Pool Resources. The first step would be that the boards of these CPRs (be it ESKOM or SAA, Transnet, Nelson Mandela Bay Water) should be ELECTED by the STAKEHOLDERS; they should NOT be political appointees. Then they should use the power of the Internet to share their monthly Income and Expenditure, their board minutes and all contracts. With Internet Transparency there would be no place for Corruption to hide and, as public institutions, no secrecy can be justified, nor necessary. Daily Maverick are in possession of my outline of how this might work for ESKOM, but, so far as I know, they have never shared it. I could spell one out for SAA, but probably not in the 1200 characters allowed in a Comment.
    Bruce Danckwerts, CHOMA, Zambia (P.S. I seriously recommend that the DA read Ms. Ostrom’s book “Managing the Commons” and make her ideas part of their 2024 manifesto.)

  • Jagdish Makan says:

    Well said Shakira.
    We are all waiting for the next elections, but the dilemma is who do we vote for ?
    ANC ? Definitely not, inefficient and corrupt to the core. We are practically a failed state. NHI? What a joke. Like Zuma with free education, this is another election stunt.
    EFF? Oh God . NO ! Whatever is left of our beautiful country will be destroyed in a very short time and definitely lead to racial wars. Idi Amin, Mussolini will be resurrected.
    DA ? Godzille has chased away all credible black leaders. By far the most effective party but has become a provincial party for the Cape. A new visionary leader is needed to take the party forward on a national level inclusive of all and then hopefully a party to vote for.
    I won’t even go down the lists of the smaller parties, one sees the circus at Provincial level.
    We need divine intervention to save our once and still beautiful country, we can’t all leave. We must stay and make a difference.

  • David Coutts-Trotter says:

    CR is no businessman. He is an oligarch in the same vein as the Russian elite. No surprise we are getting the same outcomes. Look at the talent that Russia has lost over the same period of time. Crazy and criminal.

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