Rations of Ramaphosa might be the only way to feed my hope
In the interests of self-preservation, I am going to manage my own expectations of our new president by drawing up a timetable just between the two of us
Revolutions, accepted wisdom tells us, are not triggered by oppression but by dashed hope.
The psychological logic at work here is straightforward. If you’re born with a boot on your throat, a crushed windpipe feels normal. But the moment you are given a glimpse of what it must be like to breath freely, nothing can ever feel normal again.
Now the same boot applied with the same pressure feels utterly intolerable, and the uprising begins.
Jacob Zuma’s regime didn’t come close to being one of South Africa’s most oppressive. His rule might have felt increasingly suffocating but he was always keener to have his hand in our pocket than his foot on our throat.I’m also not suggesting that South Africa is on the brink of a revolution. In his penultimate ramble, Zuma hinted at his ability to mobilise “cadres” in his defence, and Andile Mngxitama has threatened to bring Gauteng to a halt. But armies need to be paid and, now that the Guptas have gone to ground in India, those brown envelopes are going to become scarce.
Besides, I'm not a military strategist but I’m not sure that Gauteng could be brought to a standstill by 30 cashtivists, their plus-ones who were promised a drink, and five German tourists who thought it was performance art. (What’s that you say? The EFF are revolutionaries? Oh bless.)
After the euphoria
Still, given last week’s euphoria – a great inhalation of breath by a nation that had spent almost a decade breathing stagnant and corrupted air – it is perhaps worth reflecting on the high-stakes bet Cyril Ramaphosa had made with the national mood.
After years of giving us nothing except a smile, he has given us hope. Whether or not he is able to deliver on it, the fact is that he’s put it on the table. And now only one of two things can happen: either our hope will solidify into belief, or it will curdle into rage.
Right now, most of our journalists and pundits are too busy with the realpolitik of budget speeches and cabinet reshuffles to dwell on something as sentimental as hope. But I think it’s important for our national wellbeing to take a moment to acknowledge the power and the danger of hope.
It’s important simply to hold it; to allow our brains and bodies to touch it; to let it run through our fingers; to weigh it; to poke it and prod it; to fondle it the way we might with a long-forgotten, newly rediscovered toy we loved as a child.
A thing that must not be rushed
Above all, it is essential for us to be reintroduced to hope at a sedate pace. It’s something we haven’t felt for many years, and there will be side-effects of sudden exposure.
For example, we must allow ourselves space to be confused and uncertain as we tentatively feel our way out of the cynicism and pessimism that kept us safe during the Zuma era.
We will have to learn to hold more complex feelings than what we’ve been used to, especially when, inevitably, Cyril Ramaphosa disappoints our expectations. (And how can he not, given how high those are?)I know that I’m sounding like a naïve optimist. Worse, I know that I’m sounding wildly inconsistent: just two months ago I declared that the ANC was a corpse that could never be reanimated. But, in my defence, I wouldn’t be contemplating hope if I didn’t think it could be dashed. If I believed it was plain sailing from here, hope wouldn’t be hope: it would be assumption.
No, I remain extremely cautious about Ramaphosa’s prospects. Which is why I am going to pace my hope.
Instead of gorging on it all at one go, and becoming drunk, I am going to dole it out on a schedule. In the interests of self-preservation, I am going to manage my own expectations of our new president by drawing up a timetable just between the two of us.
The first block? I can happily give Ramaphosa a week: enough time to name his new cabinet and fire the worst relics of the Zuma era.
If he delivers, then he, my hope and I meet again in three months, at the end of May, when I want to see that he has sidelined most of those he can’t fire.
Then, six months: long enough to see small but undeniable advances against poverty and unemployment, and the first signs of intent to tackle the ongoing crime against our children that we continue to call “basic education”.
And finally, if Ramaphosa has given my hope a reason to return each time, we will meet in one year, and demand a state of the nation address that contains details of the state’s plan (backed by the constitution and the participation of legions of lawyers, economists and farmers) to redistribute land.
These are the milestones that will keep my hope from being snuffed out; that will protect me from that crashing disappointment that fires revolutionaries into action.
If Ramaphosa disappoints – if he clears the first hurdle but stumbles at the second or third – I’ll have seen it coming.
And if he clears them all ... No. Wait.
For now, hope is something that happens one day at a time.