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Ramaphosa: a new jockey on a dead horse?

Dec 20 2017 07:56
Susan Erasmus

CYRIL Ramaphosa’s election as ANC party leader has elicited joy in many quarters, but also a serious case of sour grapes among certain others. Those calling Cyril Ramaphosa a new jockey on a dead horse have forgotten the power of hope.

Hope is something that has been in serious short supply in this neck of the woods in the last few years.

I don’t want to make fellow South Africans dwell on why things have seemed, well, so hopeless for the better part of a decade, so I will keep it short: a sharp rise in living costs, unemployment and poverty, state capture, junk status, the death of democratic institutions, corruption, and above all, a president clinging stubbornly to his position out of self-interest in the face of overwhelming public feeling.

Desperate times

I remember last year after Zuma’s State of the Nation Address sitting in the garden, weeping quietly in the rain. I still feel sorry for myself just thinking about it.

In short, it has been depressing and very difficult to remain cheerful, vaguely polite, and able to carry on with one’s daily life in the face of the constant barrage of bad news emanating from everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

I found it necessary to take a break from the news for several months after Donald Trump was elected as US president. I took it personally, and not just because my sister, who is on Obamacare, is fighting a life-threatening illness. I felt that ignorance and crassness and greed and bullying and a total lack of grace and respect had won out over all the things most of us hold dear.

The world has gone mad

Jacob Zuma’s continued presence in our lives made me feel tainted in the same way. On some fundamental level I felt that either I had got it wrong completely, or that the world had changed so much that goodness and honesty and altruism were no longer cherished.

We teach children that behaving in a nasty and selfish way won’t get them anywhere in the long run – and yet, it worked for Trump and for Zuma. I think many parents struggled with what to tell their kids.

Whether it is realistic or not, in order to carry on we need to believe collectively that things can and will get better, or that there is at least a chance of that happening, that those in charge have an inkling of their responsibility to others - whether we are being naïve or not. We need it for mental survival.

Right, so do I believe one person can change everything?

Yes and no.

No, because he still has a gallery containing some rogues alongside him (let’s face it, Zuma is still the president), the problems he has inherited are at best very complicated, and at worst insurmountable, and the chalice he has inherited contains quite a bit of poison. No, because one man (and nobody is perfect) can only do so much when the rot runs so deep. I think just how deep it runs might still be revealed.

And yes, because I believe that the attitude and the morals and the general vibe of the person at the top filters through to the rest of the nation, and affects the way people do things. If the person at the top is self-centred and dishonest, that’s what surfaces everywhere else.  

I have seen it in schools: change the principal, and the entire ethos of a large organisation can change for the better, or for the worse. There are a lot of really good people in our country, who have carried on fighting the good fight, and have not given up hope – maybe it is time for them now to shine again.

The amazing power of hope

The Greek legend of Pandora’s box tells how, when Pandora opened the box, all the evils escaped into the world, but one thing was left lying in the bottom, namely hope. Not reality, hope. We cannot live without it.

And that is why I was unimpressed with the email I received from the DA last night, shortly after getting the news of Ramaphosa’s win, telling me that the ANC was dead and that nothing would change. They are probably right, but guys, this is not the moment.

Timing is everything, and this was poor. It’s a bit like reminding everyone at a christening that this baby will die one day, just like everybody else. We know – but just give us a break for one evening, OK? We haven’t had much to celebrate for a long time. Don’t pee on our parade just yet.

Sometimes we need our illusions to just help us carry on. And for the moment, Ramaphosa’s open and honest smile does it for me. We can deal with reality later on. And if any jockey can stir life into this dead horse, right now he is not just our best bet – he is our only bet.

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