I love a president who is a natural orator
While Ramaphosa sought to lift our low spirits, he should know that time waits for no man
Oh, how I love me a good ol’ rousing speech about hope and change. It’s why I loved listening to former US President Barack Obama’s speeches over the past decade – from his acceptance speech in 2008, to his inauguration speeches in 2009, and again in 2012. The same for Thabo Mbeki. I could listen to the former SA president tell me how much of a failure I am, and I would still probably give him a hug for even mentioning my name. I love a president who is a natural orator. It would explain why I loved Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address last Friday, and his subsequent responses to the questions posed to him on Monday.
Over five years ago, I wrote an open letter in The Times, directly after watching Obama’s re-election speech. I wrote about how, in Michelle’s husband, my young and black American counterparts had an icon. I wrote that I had “president envy” and that I, too, wished to feel compelled to stay up all night for that warm and fuzzy feeling of patriotism that Americans seemed to be bathed in after hearing their president speak.I recall reading a feature on the Guardian last year in which readers from all over were asked to pen letters to the outgoing Obama – and it struck me how I was one of an innumerable amount of people who also suffered from president envy and then great sadness when his tenure wrapped. A 24-year-old American wrote then: “Eight years ago, at a time when we were going through one of the worst recessions in history and in the midst of two neverending wars, you had the audacity to say that we should never lose hope and keep fighting for change. Perhaps you didn’t bring the change we needed, but you taught us that through even the darkest times, we need to keep moving forward. Your administration had its ups and downs, but one thing was consistent: I was never ashamed or embarrassed to call you my president.”
A 39-year-old Indian wrote: “I write to you as a citizen of the world, because that is what you were able to do – to reach out to all of us, even in the farthest corners of the globe. As a journalist for an English-language newspaper in Bombay, I was and still am in awe of your constant support for human rights across sex, creed and colour. Your openness for debate and dialogue, for showing your emotions, were special moments for us as we watched it on television back here. You represented and fought for what so many of us in this part of the world wish for. But above all, you will be remembered for giving all of us hope. You will be missed.”
I finally felt that optimism after my new president spoke last Friday.
However, it didn’t take long before I was brought back down to earth, landing on my ass. It dawned on me that perhaps the era of the politics of hope and change, which Obama championed, and which undoubtedly galvanised Americans, had already passed in the US. That it was back to the disillusionment of the George W. Bush years.Ramaphosa’s tenure begins where Obama’s did – when the US was in turmoil. Like a fresh coat of paint, he brightened the mood in the room. He spoke of a better tomorrow, of the importance of his people holding onto each other. He laughed at jokes. He told us we could. It seemed to have worked similarly well. But the patience of many in Obama and his message of hope and change eventually ran thin.
Ramaphosa may not have the luxury of time at all. He finds us at a time of great apathy – we’re working harder for less, the rights of women and children and LGBTI folks are trampled upon as easily as people do grass, education remains a lavish dream for many and severe droughts persist. There is a many obstacle.
He comes at a time when the politics of hope and change seem insufficient – people want a transformative government. We want it now. We are especially impatient because instead of a time of gains after the consolidation of Thabo Mbeki’s reign, Jacob Zuma’s time at the helm proved to be one of great regression on many fronts.
So while the president sought to lift our lowly spirits, he should know that time waits for no man, and neither does a country that’s been deceived for as long as we have been – especially by the party he now also leads, the ANC.