The president cannot wave a magic wand. We need to re-dream ourselves out of the tolerance of poverty and inequality that undermines the human dignity of so many, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
We should welcome the president’s
invitation to “remake our mental and spiritual world,” because “each
new era begins within with unsuspected possibilities for inner liberation”.
Critics of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s SONA as “long on dreams and lacking detail” do not seem to have read his
statement with the necessary care.
The statement spells out in great detail
seven priorities and five goals, namely, zero hunger, kick starting the economy,
youth employment, better education outcomes, and tackling violent crime. It also spells out some of the “how”
in the body of the SONA.
Our country’s stalled transformation to a
more just, inclusive, prosperous nation united in its diversity, is unlikely to
be unlocked without using the power of dreams to imagine a different future.
It is clear from all the evidence from the
last 25 years that we are not yet a free people, as Ben Okri’s inspirational
poem reminds us. Our un-freedom is written all over our society in broken homes,
violence in communities, failing education and health care systems, tolerance
of humiliating poverty and inequality, and wastage of the talent of our
youthful population with 7.2 million of them unemployed. It is not reasonable
to expect the president to set out more detailed plans for addressing all these
Those in the private sector calling for greater
clarity of messages to attract and keep investors engaged are forgetful of the
lessons of the GEAR era. Orthodox economic policies focussing on economic
growth benefitted a few and widened the legacy of inequalities. The world is
increasingly questioning orthodox economics and its love affair with GDP
The president’s five goals pay attention to
the well-being of the majority of citizens who have been marginalised thus far.
It also recommits to a just transition to low carbon and renewable energy to
promote greater sustainability of natural resources.
State capture flourished over the last 20
years in an environment that tolerated marginalisation of the majority by a
minority. A society that lives the human rights values of our Constitution
would not have allowed state capture to become so embedded in the environment
of doing business and governance at all levels.
The role of major corporations, including
banks, in the hollowing out of state assets, needs to be acknowledged as part
of the healing process. We all need to participate in the healing process to “clean
our eyes to see ourselves more clearly” as the president urges us to do.
The work of transforming our society has to
be done by all of us. The president cannot wave a magic wand. We need to
re-dream ourselves out of the tolerance of poverty, inequality and unemployment
that undermines the human dignity of so many and threaten our sustainability as
We need to go back to the foundations of
our society, starting with the preamble of our Constitution. We need to heal
ourselves from the wounds of our ugly past so we can see ourselves in each
other’s eyes beyond the cancer of colour coding. We need to accept the president’s invitation
to “turn on our inward lights” as part of that healing process.
Every challenge we currently face could be
turned into an opportunity if we embrace holistic transformation that disrupts
our current reality. Our cities and towns could be reimagined into more
sustainable human settlements with socio-economic systems that are redesigned
to use natural resources more re-generatively and be powered by renewable
energy. Imagine how many jobs we could create by training and utilising young
people to become providers of public services to rejuvenate, clean and maintain
We also need to reimagine Eskom. The
proposed restructuring of Eskom into the three business units, generation, transmission
and distribution, holds great promise to strengthen the world class transmission
and distribution units whilst transforming the generation focus from fossil fuel
The R200bn already invested in renewables
could rapidly quadruple as more and more investors, including development
finance institutions, migrate out of fossil fuel. This migration would benefit
rural areas where land for solar, wind and biofuels is abundant. Promoting
agriculture and food security including agro-processing, as outlined in the
SONA, would benefit from access to locally generated power supplies.
The mining industry needs to discharge its
responsibilities to rehabilitate their operational areas as required by their social
licence to mine. Imagine if the industry
would faithfully budget for, and utilise rehabilitation funds to transform the
ugly scarred landscapes of mining dunes, dust and acid mine drainage!
As the mining industry recedes into a less
prominent role in the economy it needs to shift gear into gear to ensuring the
well being of mining communities whose lives have been disrupted by their
operations. Imagine the benefits of job
creation, enhancing the quality of our environment and of life for millions whose
health is being severely compromised!
Protecting and rehabilitating natural
resources including species that are going extinct due to disruption of their
habitats, is critical for the industry, and our society, to repay the debt to
Our president should take strength from
Eleanor Roosevelt who reminded her then cynical fellow American citizens that: “The
future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
– Mamphela Ramphela is co-founder of ReimagineSA.