Ramaphosa gets to the bones of it with biblical texts

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

Is it politically sound to suggest that President Cyril Ramaphosa's political outlook may be shaped by many things, including the existential conditions of the black person and their struggles for justice and equity and political suffering and marginalisation?

Is it also true to extrapolate, judging by a series of his recent political utterances and statements, that biblical philosophy does in fact impact or colour his perspective about politics, and life in general?

If this is true, his recent forays into ancient literature of biblical writers should not be surprising.

In his early life as a law student in the 1970s at the then University of the North, colloquially known as Turfloop University, and now known as the University of Limpopo, Ramaphosa was the leader of the Student Christian Movement (SCM).

Why would a law student be keen on matters of Christian religion at a time when the Black Consciousness Movement was at its nascent, yet powerful stage of conscientisation?

The reason is simple: religion, or more precisely, black theology, became the rallying point, or a political fulcrum, from which to launch a rebellion against an apartheid state that had heightened its oppressive programme.

Ramaphosa, through the SCM, was part of the burgeoning group of students prosecuting the liberation struggle from the black consciousness perspective, and the SCM was its integral part.

Also, humans search for meaning in all kind of things - the ethereal and philosophy and religion, and in many ways get their lives formed and intellectually shaped by such pursuits. All this might seem murky and shrouded in mystery. Yet we can infer, given what we know today, that Ramaphosa may have taken a special interest in the appreciation of ancient scriptures as a means to widen his horizon and scope of knowledge and learning, an enterprise he today brings to bear to shape the political destiny of his country.

Slightly under two months ago, at the 54th ANC national elective conference, in his victory speech after being elected ANC president, Ramaphosa talked about the need for renewal. He also alluded to the phenomenon of infusing new life into the "dry bones" the ANC had become under Jacob Zuma.

The metaphor of dry bones makes for interesting observation.

"The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the Lord and set me in the centre of the valley, which was now filled with bones. He made me walk among them in every direction so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the valley. How dry they were! He asked me: his election as Son of man, can these bones come to life?" (Ezekiel 37.1-3)

The motif of the valley of the dry bones is instructive. The lingering question for Ramaphosa is: "Son of man, can these bones come to life?"

The vision of the ancient writer, and his allusion to the dry bones of the valley, is something that confronts our country. At the presentation of the State of the Nation Address, Ramaphosa used words drawn from the legendary musician Hugh Masekela's song Thuma Mina, meaning "Send Me".

But these lyrical words Masekela used in his song are words borrowed from the biblical prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8): "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "I said: 'Here I am. Send me'."

So, Ramaphosa has committed to infusing new life into the ANC's "dry bones" and to being "sent" to give hope to all South Africans who had for nearly nine years, under the leadership of Zuma, lived in the shadow of death.