By Clyde Ramalaine
Ferial Haffajee, the colourful editor of the SA office for the Huffington Post, in one of her recent opinion pieces, bemoans the fact that President Ramaphosa’s ‘thuma mina’ otherwise understood as ‘send me’ campaign theme is now no more exclusively his but used by populists in the African National Congress.
She in unsolicited sense advises the president against allowing his unique campaign theme to be hijacked as an ANC campaign. With this she insinuates ‘send me’ is now tainted because it’s in ANC space, environment and language open for populist rhetoric.
She starts out by giving us the known history of how President Ramaphosa first used the slogan as borrowed from one of the late Bra Hugh Masekela’s tracks. Clearly, Ramaphosa and his panel of public relations experts found a theme that would resonate and attempt inspiring thus galvanizing many in SA. She is correct for reading the ‘thuma mina’ campaign as a political campaign. Her error, however, is her obvious and narrow interpretation of a person versus an organisational campaign.
Perhaps the first error Haffajee makes is to ignore, who President Ramaphosa is responding to when he says send me. Those in a perpetual attempt of separating ANC elected leadership from the ANC and SA leadership, fail to ask who and what Ramaphosa is answering when he says ‘send me’. One cannot read this ‘thuma mina’ in a vacuum but in contextual sense President Ramaphosa as responding at a personal level to an exacted mandate. That mandate hitherto is not yet an SA national elections vote mandate on him per se but exclusively an ANC 54th Conference mandate.
Haffajee’s second error is her narrow attempt of seeking to tie what Ramaphosa articulated in ‘send me’ to him exclusively, meaning Ramaphosa arrived in presidential office by himself or by the claimed of SA hashtag endorsing crowd of elites. Haffajee’s error is not new in our discourse. It was common for whites to think of Mandela as distinct from the ANC airbrushing the direct link between Mandela who had no political personality, stature or identity unless it is borrowed and extracted from the ANC. They in a remanufactured sense wanted to recraft him in deity sense when they castigated his party as demonic.
Unfortunately, some in this epoch in an uncritical and subjective sense attempt the same of Ramaphosa. There are those in the media space who early on in his 100 days of leading SA, made these comparisons and even created false claims of a ramaphoria, in the same ilk of Mandela. These mistook sophisticated public relations exercises an intrinsic part of the Ramaphosa presidency for a breath of reliving a Mandela era. We warned against the notion of placing Mandela’s oversize shoes on Ramaphosa’s feet because we knew such a comparison for a multiplicity of reasons anchored essentially in time, space and circumstance prove simply far-fetched if not misleading. Ramaphosa will best serve his mandate and role if he resists the forced narrative of being the second coming of Mandela.
While we may have diverse views as to whether we need another Mandela or not, the jury remains out as to SA needing another Mandela. We saw how both Ramaphosa and Maimane were cautioned not to be misled to assume they could be Mandela.
Haffajee commits a third error in her passionate attempt of recasting Ramaphosa as separate to the ANC when perhaps she conveniently erases President Ramaphosa from the 5 years since Mangaung of ANC deputy presidency and the period since 2014 when he served as SA deputy president under President Zuma. We must remind Haffajee the brave gymnastics of trying to untie Ramaphosa from the President Zuma administration is rather complicated and borders on being a sophism. We know today as we have always known President Ramaphosa in his capacity as leader of government business in his former position is intrinsically linked to the good, bad and ugly of the 5th Administration whose term he is currently completing.
We cannot continue the sponsored deception peddled in this season by some in pretending that President Ramaphosa arrived at Parliament or the office of ANC and SA presidency when he was installed in February 2018. It’s mischievous, deceitful and completely ahistorical to absolve the current ANC and SA president from his role as deputy of the ANC and SA right up to December 2017. I do not think history is helped with this naked attempt of a sanitised version prognosticated by an exuberant crowd however defined in our societal expression.
One must, therefore, ask of Haffajee what is the political motive and intent for this blatant airbrushing of a well-known and documented history that we all lived through? This 5th administration cannot entertain exemptions for its bad when it’s good some wants to claim. For the record, half of the Top-Six of the Zuma led ANC presidency continues to serve, the majority of NEC members continue to serve and the majority of Ramaphosa’s maiden cabinet continue to serve from a past era. The ANC warts and all from its president continues to serve SA in public office.
A fourth error Haffajee may commit is her seeming lack of appreciation of who the ANC as an organisation is. Once an elective conference concluded on a leadership, disciplined ANC members accept and submit to its elected leaders regardless of what candidate they voted for. To frame some still as populist in the factional division because they didn’t support the elected president but any of the other six candidates also in the run is to fail to appreciate the ANC as a democratic organisation.
President Ramaphosa, therefore, claimed the ‘thuma mina’ campaign in his capacity of ANC leadership not just of himself but on behalf of all those who are disciplined members and supporters of the ANC. ‘Thuma mina’ as a political campaign and adopted theme birthed in the atmosphere of ANC deployment cannot be exclusive to those who articulate it the first time and patented for individual personal political purposes and usage. When the ANC Elections Chairperson Fikile Mbalula speaks of ’thuma mina’ it cannot be automatically tagged as a denigrating or corrupting a pristine campaign because Ramaphosa for some is not a populist when others like Mbalula are.
Haffajee commits perhaps an unpardonable sin when she attempts to delink the ‘thuma mina’ campaign from the fundamental land question. Need I remind Haffajee the ANC’s raison d’être from inception was an organisation established on and around the issue of Natives and their claim on the land. A 106 years later in electing its 13th President, it mandated him and his team to return the land to the masses, it irrevocably instructed this leadership to find the means within the ambit of a constitutional democracy frame yet inclusive of expropriation without compensation. If SA President Ramaphosa has any mandate it can only be extracted, from that which he was tasked with and obtained in being elected at the 54th ANC conference that adopted unequivocal resolutions. His presidency thus stands and falls on the land issue. If he responded to that exacted deployment with ‘Thuma Mina’ it is directly linked and essentially anchored to the subject of land redress for the masses.
It goes without saying that the ANC in the last 24 years dismally failed to deliver economic emancipation for the masses, that emancipation is intrinsically tied to the subject of the return of the land to those to whom it belongs. It is therefore farcical to want to divorce Ramaphosa’s adopted ‘Thuma Mina’ campaign slogan or theme from his exacted mandate which is and will remain radical economic transformation and the return of the land to the masses.
Haffajee in the fifth instance is perhaps overzealous to disqualify the ANC as the leader of society with an undeniable mandate from 1994 until 2018. To argue the ANC irrelevant defunct and out of step due to the ton of blunders it committed since Mandela to Ramaphosa is to misread the reality of the SA political landscape. If the ANC is dead and not trusted as is claimed by the chattering-class it must be asked who is to replace it in the political leadership sphere of society? This question naturally and rightly in any other society would be answered in an opposition party particularly the one most trusted.
Unfortunately, in SA that party is the Democratic Alliance, I need not remind Haffajee of the turmoil and haemorrhaging this party is subjecting itself to with its cornerstone objective of defending white interest. We are even hearing of rumours of a possible split because the original and core constituency of the DA was unceremoniously touched on its proverbial collective studio when its black-face leader Mmusi Maimane dared to defy the secret code, never challenge white privilege and please do not draw a causal link between that and black poverty.
To, therefore, discount the ANC as leader of society as mandated with decisive margins of nothing less than 62% in national elections more so when the official opposition is finding itself in more than inclement weather and threatening a crash landing is not to appreciate the true political context and times SA finds itself. We must resist the temptation to write the ANC off because we assume it deserves no support.
Finally, in what capacity does President Ramaphosa’s asked to be send, who must have send him if it’s not the ANC? Logic dictates if his response to the exacted mandate is ‘send me’, we must perpetually ask what is the mandate to which he retorts ‘send me’?
Political Commentator and Writer