“The foundation has been laid – the building is in progress. With a new generation of leaders and a people that rolls up its sleeves in partnerships for change, we can and shall build the country of our dreams!” ~ Nelson Mandela during his State of the Nation address,Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 5 February 1999
South Africa, again, has a President who dreams. Yet so many of the responses to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address accuse him of being just a dreamer and called, instead, for more practical strategising and planning. The need for the latter, of course, is incontrovertible. Our country can no longer wait for an end to maladministration at local government level - for example, the Auditor-General tells us that only 18 out of 257 local authorities received clean audits in the last financial year. We cannot wait any longer for cultures of excellence in government to replace the cultures of mediocrity which seem to have become the norm. We cannot wait any longer for employment equity to be taken seriously and implemented robustly in the private sector. We cannot wait any longer for the interventions required to turn our crèches from detention centres into the thriving early childhood development centres they ought to be. We cannot accept, any longer, a society in which one six-year-old in four suffers from stunting. There is no doubt that South Africa needs transformation, and quickly.
But we also need a dream. Nelson Mandela had a dream for South Africa and, during the 1990s, that dream became embodied in the country’s new constitution. The task of the administrations since then has been to turn that dream into a lived reality for all. I need not rehearse the failures of implementation which characterised those administrations, nor elaborate on the terrible consequences of having a president who had no dream at all and who, for nearly a decade, used the highest office in the land to create networks of patronage and cronyism. President Ramaphosa’s administration will have to do as much cleaning up and fixing as it does transforming.
We need a dream. We need a vision. The challenge today, and it is a global one, looks far more complex and intractable than it did in the 1990s. We see more clearly now how intersecting systems of power (from white supremacy to patriarchy, from imperialism to extractive capitalism) oppress people and other species on our earth, even within structures of democracy and human rights. Unravelling this knot will require inspirational ideas, if not dreams, as well as determination and the application of practical skills. We commend President Ramaphosa for encouraging South Africans to think big.
In the third week of June, I was privileged to attend the launch of a new legacy foundation, the Kuhlase SS Education Foundation, dedicated to uplifting the local community of Nsongweni Primary School, in Nhlangano, Eswatini. I was both moved and inspired by what I saw. The Kuhlase family is to be congratulated for this initiative. The launch was in honour of their father who was recently brutally murdered in the same community. This gesture alone is a powerful reflection of the family's generosity. Ntate Kuhlase had a dream. His dream was of a community in which no child is found wanting when it comes to basic things that can enable them to attend school. The Foundation aims to uplift deserving and needy learners in Eswatini through education and by helping to tackle intergenerational poverty. Driving through Eswatini with my wife and a few friends on our way to the launch event, we encountered a small boy, ten years old, on the road walking to school. We stopped to offer him a lift. He told us that his walk to school every day takes an hour and a half. As he got in the car, he left behind the toy car made of wire he had been pushing on the side of the road.
“No one will steal it,” he said. “It will be waiting for me on my walk home.” he said. We need both the resilience and the belief of this young boy. We dare not take away from him the dream which keeps him going. That dream enables him to walk the long distance every day in the cold winter even when he’s tired.
As we move into July, the month of Madiba’s birthday and of Nelson Mandela International Day, our hope is that many in South Africa and in other parts of the world will heed the call of the Mandela Day campaign and take responsibility for transforming our societies. The campaign is inspired by a dream. But it is geared to making a difference in very practical ways, big and small. May we remember Madiba this month by working hard and honouring his dream. Let us all strive to do differently and build our vision in order to achieve the goal of a country that works and protects the poor and vulnerable.