People's power is the key to shaping future we want

FILE PICTURE: A worker passes hundreds of South African flags lining routes in and out of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International airport.
FILE PICTURE: A worker passes hundreds of South African flags lining routes in and out of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International airport.
Image: Halden Krog © The Times

Amandla ngawethu!

Matla kea rona!

Sometimes we forget the real meaning of these words. They are not merely a political slogan coined in the bad old days to agitate the population into rising up against a racist and oppressive system. It is a timeless call to action that is still as relevant today as it was back then.

There is much excitement in the country about what has come to be known as the "New Dawn". The fall of Jacob Zuma, and his replacement by Cyril Ramaphosa as president appears to have given the majority of South Africans renewed hope that our country could soon be back on the road to becoming a prosperous democracy that delivers to all its people, as was promised by the founding fathers and mothers whose struggles and sacrifices ensured that we reached the 1994 breakthrough.

But we would be making a grave mistake by putting all our hopes on the shoulders of Ramaphosa, the ANC and its government.

The much needed post-apartheid reconstruction of South Africa is too massive a task to be left in the hands of a few individuals - no matter how popular they may be.

The frustration and unhappiness that many of us often express about the 1994 dispensation - some even go as far as blaming former president Nelson Mandela for the fact that key features of apartheid still persist in society today - is precisely because we forgot that "matimba i ya hina". And not just the Big Men and their parties.

Obviously, there is a role for politicians, political parties and the state in helping South Africa transform into a society that is truly a home for all. In our case, as a people still recovering from centuries of anti-black colonial rule, state power should be seen as a political tool that can be used to mould a new society. But on its own it is ineffective.

What is required the most is our involvement as citizens in shaping the future that we want. We have the power. Whether it is in the areas of public education, health, the fight against crime and many others, as citizens - especially the majority - we can use this power to bring about positive change.

Almost universally, as South Africans we agree with and support the Black Lives Matter campaign in the US. But can we say that in our country, where black people constitute the vast majority, black lives do matter when most experience a poor public health system on a daily basis and their children have to leave home at dawn and travel tens of kilometres just to get decent schooling?

It is conditions like these that need to change if we are to ensure that the "New Dawn" does not only translate into a Zuma-free South Africa but one that breaks with the development patterns of the apartheid system.

The power does not always have to be through the ballot box or protest - even though both are important - but can include the use of our collective skills to, for instance, turn township and rural schools into centres of excellence.

If the "New Dawn" is to become a reality we all need to be thinking about our roles as individuals and a collective in making it happen. If we sit back and wait on politicians to deliver us the promised land, we will again be complaining about the lack of change 20 years from now.