Today is a good day to be South African. Cyril Ramaphosa, one day after being sworn in as South Africa’s fifth democratic president, delivered a State of the Nation address last night that reminded us who we can be. Over the last nine years, we had become conditioned to the mediocrity of Jacob Zuma, had set the bar so low that our optimism of a better tomorrow had withered away. With one speech, Ramaphosa allayed the melancholy. Rise, South Africa, he said, and rebuild the dream of a prosperous and just society.
It requires action, and he has many plans. A smaller and more efficient government, support for entrepreneurs, investment in innovation, welcoming tourists, broader ownership of agriculture. But success will not depend on him alone. It cannot. In what reminded me of Kennedy’s ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’, Ramaphosa told South Africans to take responsibility for the future they want: In the words of Hugh Masekela, thuma mina (Send Me).
We are at a moment in the history of our nation when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around.
We can envisage the triumph over poverty, we can see the end of the battle against AIDS.
Now is the time to lend a hand.
Now is the time for each of us to say ‘send me’.
Now is the time for all of us to work together, in honour of Nelson Mandela, to build a new, better South Africa for all.
Much work must be done. Not everything promised can surely be delivered. But the tide has turned. Today is a good day to be South African.