by Anthony Egan SJ

Amidst an otherwise disastrous political environment the recent statements of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa offer a glimmer of hope. Having in the past flip-flopped back and forth over his boss in government and the ruling party, Ramaphosa has finally pinned his colours to the mast and shown signs that he has the leadership needed to win the presidency of the African National Congress in December this year and probably the country in 2019.

Those of us old enough to remember, see in his recent speeches signs of the Ramaphosa we knew and respected in the past – the powerful but reasonable trade unionist of the 1980s and the master negotiator and key architect of the democratic transition. He has shown leadership at this time in our history when it is in short supply, or simply posing under the guise of opportunistic populism, outraged hand-wringing or shameless greed.

Showing leadership, as opposed to its fake and disastrous imitations, is never easy. We live in an age of fake news, state capture and the deliberate use of political misdirection to distract us from the real issues. Holding fast to the core challenges to democracy – clean government, clear and workable policies to revive a dying economy, service delivery – while working to cauterize the cancer that has infested his own party demands a lot of Ramaphosa.

He can’t do it alone. He needs the support of the public at large. Us.

We need to decide where we stand. Are we prepared to buy into the lies thrown at us by the current ruling elite? Will we be satisfied with meaningless slogans and all the empty promises? Will we be intimidated by hollow threats about social grants, or rhetoric of race and redress – the latter matters of importance spun into sloganeering to distract us? If we accept these then strength to Zuma, the Guptas and their friends.  We will deserve what we will get: economic collapse, mass unemployment, social decay. As South Africa heads over the precipice into a failed state let us blame none but ourselves.

On the other hand we could show a little leadership ourselves. We could keep pressure on government to deliver services, investigate and prosecute the corrupt, and warn those in power that they do not govern by some divine mandate but by the will of the electorate.

We need to build well-informed debate about the future of this country. This means doing serious analysis rather than following fashionable twits on social media. It means looking hard for and at facts, not fake news. And it means moderating idealism (the ‘dream’) with realism – what actually works.

Beyond that we need to seriously start addressing the issues facing the country in our local communities – parishes, synagogues, mosques and temples included. The pathetic sleepiness of the latter institutions over the last twenty-odd years has to end. Our noble religious tradition of struggle for democracy has morphed into spiritual escapism – and while we may have wandered into personal nirvanas the country has gone to hell. It’s time for us to take it back.