JOHANNESBURG - Cyril Ramaphosa attended the Afrikanerbond’s centenary celebrations. Is he pandering to the opposition or promoting cohesion?, asks Georgina Guedes.
All those years ago, when Nelson Mandela assumed the presidency of South Africa, I can remember the hearts of the nation swelling with pride as he took steps towards reconciliation.
I am sure that there were many policy decisions and negotiations behind closed doors, but the public face of his approach was to attend rugby matches, to campaign for the inclusion of the old anthem in the new one, to continue to employ the staff of the previous regime, and to champion the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
At the time, these grand gestures were emblematic of a commitment to carry South Africa further, to realise the dream of the so-called “rainbow nation”, where all races could live in harmony, and to put behind us the deep divisions of yesteryear.
Unfortunately, as gorgeous and compelling as this vision of our future might have been, more than twenty years on, we can’t say that it has necessarily been a success. Did we lapse into civil war? No. do white people and black people live side by side in relative harmony? Sort of. But have the hearts and minds of all South Africans remained committed to Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation? Not really.
While there are a significant number of South Africans who really would like to just get on with it, work hard, have a family, live without fear and enjoy the fruits of their labour, there are millions to whom these fairly basic life goals are denied. And they are increasingly angry and vocal – rightly so.
At the same time, there are those white South Africans for whom life has become a little less comfortable than it once was (although, not by much, really), who continue to live in fear of oppression by the largely black leadership in our country. Progress is not their primary goal. They want things to be exactly the way that they were before apartheid ended.
It’s hard to imagine a future in which these two opposites will ever be reconciled. There are those still fixated on the good old days, and those for whom 24-odd years of democracy still haven’t carried them far enough away from the horrors of the past, who are desperate for a future in which things will be different. How can they agree on a middle road? Isn’t that exactly where we are already – and both sides are dissatisfied?
Two days ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa attended the Afrikanerbond centenary celebrations, a move reminiscent of the olive-branch actions of Nelson Mandela, although Thabo Mbeki also attended such a gathering in his day. Ramaphosa has, in his approach been very like the first ANC president in attempting to appear to be a president for ALL South Africans.
WATCH: Ramaphosa addresses Afrikanerbond
Still, it’s hard for many to reconcile a president seeming to endorse an organisation that was born out of the Broederbond, the secret, white, male-only, Afrikaner organisation that pulled strings behind the scenes of the Apartheid government. Even the supposedly transformed Afrikanerbond, which looks out for the interests of white Afrikaners, is still not exactly the kind of company that one would hope Ramaphosa would be keeping.
However, the prez stuck to his guns. Even in that, I imagine, highly critical setting, he continued to champion land reform (although we have yet to see what that will really look like).
"Rather than seeing it as a threat, running to foreign capitals ringing the alarm bells, see it as an opportunity," he said. "Let us not see the issue of land as a reason to pack up and go."
Again, we will have to wait and see what it will look like, but I doubt we are in for Zimbabwe-like land grabs.
So, while Ramaphosa might have been consorting with a group with questionable credentials, he certainly wasn’t abandoning his base, or pandering to the opposition. And as odd a coupling as this may seem, when Afrikanerbond chairperson Jaco Schoeman introduced Ramaphosa, he did refer to the president’s State of the Nation address, which is now known as the “Thuma Mina (Send Me)” speech by saying that the Afrikanerbond also wanted to be “sent along”.
While the cynic in me isn’t willing to walk the road of blind faith in reconciliation again, at least people on both sides of the fence are saying the right things. I doubt their policies can be aligned, but ostensible cohesion is a powerful statement, and if we’re not going to burn it all down (God, I hope we’re not), it’s what we need.