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