/ 21 February 2018

Masses are singing from the pulse of President Ramaphosa’s Sona

Saturday and Sunday will now be reserved for the convening of a bi-annual lekgotla where alliance partners will also attend to plan for the year ahead.
Saturday and Sunday will now be reserved for the convening of a bi-annual lekgotla where alliance partners will also attend to plan for the year ahead.

Our country is on a dancing jam inspired by our departed music icon Hugh Masekela’s dazzling song Thuma Mina/Send Me, which was referred to by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his maiden State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week.

In corporate corridors, in lecture halls, at taxi ranks, at stokvels, in factories, in beer halls, on social media and elsewhere, people are blasting out Thuma Mina to collectively confront the persisting challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The song befittingly signifies the “new dawn” the president spoke about during his inspirational address.

It has brought back a sense of belonging to the vast of majority of our people, who were despondent and angry about the mortgaging of our country to the Gupta family, which undermined our sovereignty and held back the wheels of change and prosperity for all.

One family in the semi-rural outskirts of Durban, in Inchanga, was glued to the TV screen when Ramaphosa delivered the SONA, which signified a transition from former president Jacob Zuma.

The family of eight, who live in a dilapidated shack, was excited about the prospects of a new dawn and the many opportunities that will be provided by the new administration.

The family’s head, NomaKhongolose Luthuli, was retrenched from Rainbow Chicken, outside Hammarsdale, on January 31 last year. The single mother of seven, a loyal and committed employee, had worked there for almost 18 years. But she was one of the 1 350 workers who were retrenched because of the influx of cheap chicken imports from Brazil, the United States and European Union countries.

Since then, Luthuli has been sitting at home, unemployed. She has even given up on looking for work.

Her neighbour, Shosholoza Zuma, a security guard at the majestic Pavilion Shopping Mall not far from the poor and overpopulated Chesterville township in Durban, excitedly told her to watch the SONA, because he had high hopes for what would come out of it.

But she was not keen to and her reasons are understandable — she had joined the army of the unemployed, ravaged by squalor and poverty in Inchanga and surrounding areas. She has been struggling to support her daughter, Mayibuye Luthuli, who is a qualified electrical engineer from the Mangosuthu University of Technology and has been unemployed for the past 48 months.

Her son, Freedom Luthuli, was retrenched from Dunlop when his union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, went on a protected strike in 2013. He survives by selling vegetables at a nearby taxi rank, and sometimes complements his takings by washing taxis.

The Luthulis haven’t had “a good story to tell” — theirs has been a life of hardship and suffering, like other families living in similar conditions.

When Ramaphosa approached the podium to address the nation, there was silence in the makeshift TV room of the Luthuli family. The family’s socioeconomic plight rested on his shoulders. He was the messiah who was going lift them up from a life of despair and deliver them to the Promised Land and a better life.

It was not because of magic that the family ululated and burst into song when the president announced that, “at the centre of our national agenda in 2018, is the creation of jobs, especially for the youth … One of the initiatives will be to convene a jobs summit within the next few months to align the efforts of every sector and every stakeholder behind the imperative of job creation”.

What also put a smile on the Luthulis’ faces was his bold statement that “expropriation of land without compensation” will be implemented. For her and her family, it will restore their dignity.

The Luthulis were forcefully removed from their ancestral land after the heinous 1913 Land Act by the colonial regime, which made sure that “the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth”, as stated by the ANC’s founding secretary general, Sol Plaatje.

The many hectares of land at Rainbow Chicken where NomaKhongolose Luthuli worked belonged to the Luthuli clan, so she welcomed what the president said: “We will accelerate our land redistribution programme, not only to redress a grave historical injustice, but also to bring more producers into the agricultural sector and to make more land available for cultivation.”

She is hoping that, through a co-operative, she will be able to venture into a farming business, despite the fact that the ownership and control of the agricultural sector, like most in the country, is racialised and monopolistic, with just a few companies and people controlling the entire value chain.

She is further excited to hear that “the government will honour its undertaking to set aside at least 30% of public procurement to small and medium enterprises, cooperatives and township and rural enterprises”.

According to Luthuli, this will stimulate business in the township, systemically address poverty and inequality, and help to ease the socioeconomic burden on the poor. Furthermore, it will significantly decrease the number of households dependent on social grants or pensions to survive. It is estimated that a third of the population lives on social grants.

What encouraged her was that there was no jeering or an uproar from the opposition benches, especially by the self-styled Economic Freedom Fighters; there was no attempt at grandstanding or trying to interrupt the president; there was no need for the speaker of the National Assembly to call in the bouncers, in their signal white shirts, to physically remove unruly MPs.

Ramaphosa has written the appropriate lyrics, produced a great song of hope, and has kept the country on the dance floor. Indeed, the masses are singing from his SONA message, Thuma Mina/Send Me.

Castro Ngobese works for the Gauteng provincial government and writes in his personal capacity