Picture: Leon Lestrade / Independent Newspapers / Taken on February 6, 2024. President Cyril Ramaphosa join the National Youth Development Agency at Belhar Sportsfield on the Cape Flats in the Western Cape Province, to reflect on the impactful three years since the initiation of the Presidential Employment Stimulus and Youth Employment Intervention. South Africa is a nation that oscillates between hope and hopelessness, giving life to an imaginary universe of saints and sinners, intolerant of the defects, complexities, and gradations of real life, the writer says.
By Kim Heller
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fantastical tale of a young girl who accidentally tumbles down a rabbit-hole into a phantastic almost psychedelic wonderland. There are enchanting characters, including a mad hatter, a chattering Cheshire cat, and an adventurous white rabbit.
There are magic potions that make Alice believe that anything is possible. It is a world of make-belief. Before long, she is unable to distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary. In the end, Alice wakes up to discover that her adventuring in wonderland was but a daydream.
Seven years into Cyril Ramaphosa’s New Dawn, South Africans have woken up to find that there is no Thuma Mina magic and that the endless jangle of Cyril and his cast of characters has failed to turn the nation into a wonderland. Rather the everyday stumble of the Ramaphosa administration has turned South Africa into a wasteland. Statistics are alarming. With unemployment now at 41.2 percent, and GDP declining fast, the country is a wander-land of spectacular political malfunction.
In 2019, I wrote an opinion piece together with Professor Sipho Seepe entitled The truth may be too ghastly for Ramaphosa supporters. We wrote how South Africa is a nation that oscillates between hope and hopelessness, giving life to an imaginary universe of saints and sinners, intolerant of the defects, complexities, and gradations of real life. “This” we argued “creates an impossible gap between promise and reality.”
Instead of the smart cities Ramaphosa promised, his administration has delivered a catacomb of pot-holed dreams. Able bodied unemployed youth wander like neglected waifs along a carriageway that holds no hope of prosperity. In the end, they cannot, like Alice, wake up from the reverie. For their nightmare is real.
In our 2019 opinion piece, Seepe and I wrote of the propagandist portraiture of President Cyril Ramaphosa as the salve and salvation of South Africa. We wrote “For his part, Ramaphosa has enthusiastically embraced this world of make believe. He is as much complicit as he is an inevitable victim of this malady. But like all myths, the messianic Ramaphosa portraiture is beginning to melt.” We wrote, “For those invested in the Ramaphosa presidency the truth may just be too ghastly to contemplate. It might prove ruinous politically and financially.”
Ramaphosa has led South Africa into its most sorry state since democracy. From the start he has appeared uncertain about his way, almost lost, and often seems perplexed about where he is headed.
In ‘Alice Adventuring in Wonderland’, Alice clearly confused about where she was headed asks a large Cheshire Cat “What Road do I take?” The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
This week’s SONA is unlikely to set a clear direction for South Africa. Rather than setting a solid path ahead, SONA 2024 is likely to meander around the giddy hills of heady promises. It is likely to be a joy ride of yesteryear’s achievements rather than a compassing of the future. It is a bridge too far to think that Ramaphosa will steer us towards a road of recovery.
SONA 2024 not only takes place as South Africa marks thirty years of democracy, but it also occurs a mere month away from the most fiercely contested election the government has faced since 1994. It is also significant that Ramaphosa will deliver his address in Cape Town, at a time when there is a strong call among those fevered with apartheid nostalgia to secede the Cape from the rest of the country.
For those who are hoping for an inspired address or recovery roadmap, they will be desperately disappointed. The event is likely to be little more than a recycling of old promises. The level of disrespect that the ANC and Ramaphosa have for the electorate is chronic. This disrespect is reflected in the inability to meet the bread-and-butter obligations of government; the building of bridges for schoolchildren to cross over a river to get to class, the repair of supersized potholes, the effective functioning of essential utility and transport networks and infrastructure.
Ramaphosa is not only a man uncertain in his direction but also one with a mercurial character. In ‘Alice Adventuring in Wonderland,’ the Caterpillar asks Alice, “Who are you?” Alice replied, “I — I hardly know, Sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Ramaphosa has tried to play the lead role of messiah. He has failed dismally. He has tried to play the role of King of renewal. Once again, he has failed dismally. He has presented himself as an anti-corruption crusader. Phala Phala made a total mockery of this persona. At this week’s SONA he is likely to take on the role of a great statesman, of the ilk of Mandela. He may well use the noble stance taken by South Africa at the International Court of Justice against Israel, to portray himself favourably. While this is probably the one thing Ramaphosa did right in his administration, one hopes that the stance of South Africa to stand with the people of Palestine, does not become a political scoring exercise at SONA or an expedient electoral issue.
This week’s opinion piece by journalist Carol Paton, entitled ‘Ramaphosa at SONA: Where have all the believers gone?’ published in News24 is spot on. She writes, “President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his eighth State of the Nation address this week. But his credibility is thin, and there is little left for him to say”.
The spokesperson of EFF, Sinawo Thambo posted about the upcoming SONA. “On Thursday February 8, 2024, Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his final SONA of a failed term as President. Instead of telling you what he has done to change and improve the lives of South Africans, he will once again pretend as if his term begins afresh at SONA. The media in SA must reflect, we don’t want you to be partisan, just reflect. Just put the past eight State of the Nation Address Speeches on your media desks and show us the difference or progress”.
Leader of the ATM, wrote this week on X, ‘don’t hold your breath for #SONA2024’. He lists how youth unemployment stands at 58 percent, how 18.2 million people live in poverty in South Africa and how 75 people are killed a day through violent crime.
No matter what Ramaphosa says at SONA, there is no bright horizon. The real SONA will be the upcoming election when self-respecting South Africans will try to Save South Africa from Ramaphosa and the ANC.
Kim Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.