The power of ‘Thuma Mina’ to transform SA

Cyril Ramaphosa

About a year ago, during his acceptance address, following his election by parliament on 16 February 2018, President Cyril M Ramaphosa fired the imagination and emotion of South Africa and other stakeholders on the African continent and worldwide. The invocation came in the form of “thuma mina” from the inspirational lyrics of one of the songs of a much loved Afro Jazz great, Hugh Masekela, who was still being mourned by his compatriots following his passing a few weeks earlier.

“We are at a moment in the history of our nation when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around.  We can envisage the triumph over poverty, we can see the end of the battle against AIDS. Now is the time to lend a hand. Now is the time for each of us to say ‘send me’ ” cried the President.

“Thuma mina”, Nguni for “send me” evidently is catching up and proliferating as a key theme of the Ramaphosa presidency, not intended as a parochial battle cry of the African National Congress (ANC) in the lead up to the general election in 2019.  It grabs one as an earnest encouragement for individual and inclusive people action in combating the social and economic challenges that beset their nation.

As a form of new non-partisan activism, thuma mina presents itself as a catchphrase of a new logical, vigorous and timeous phase in the uninterrupted continuum of voluntary service or voluntarism; a time-honoured tradition of the ANC. This makes it particularly important to note that the ANC is the organic liberation movement of which most notable pro-liberation political parties and civil society organizations are born; PAC, IFP, UDM, COPE, EFF, SANCO, COSATU, SAFTU, (and now ATM) to name just a handful.

Very fascinatingly even the FF+, the DA, ACDP, Solidarity, Afriforum and all other formations which tend to be associated with the old national political order or are definable outside the ambit of the liberation movement, do at times, expediently identify with some of the main socio-political principles of the movement. It is easier though for many to talk about the values of Nelson Mandela than confess to espousing the core values of the ANC. So is the multifarious extra-ideological leadership mission of the ANC. Therefore together with its structures, members and allies, the ANC needs to continually recalibrate the depth of the sophistication and efficacy of its social and economic leadership to inspire confidence as to its legitimacy for general acceptance as the leader of society.         

From John L Dube to Jacob G Zuma, and now Cyril M Ramaphosa, each and every ANC President has, without exception or fail, strongly promoted volunteerism. As the governing party since national political liberation in 1994, it has to be counted on to galvanize everybody and practically all social formations representing or professing to represent the aspirations of their affiliates.  The ANC has had, throughout more than 100 years of its existence and prime custodianship of the liberation struggle, a kind of enduring, pervasive, often unacknowledged influence on the psycho-social consciousness, behaviour and response of the general public. If not the yardstick, it is the strategic point of reference or factor that is always present in the analysis, thinking, planning, workings and evaluation on the part of its counterparts or competitors. Thuma mina therefore has to be about a winning nation, and all must be imbued with it.          

It is not, it cannot, and should not only be about the President raising his hand to volunteer and committing himself, to serving his country and the electorate or citizenry as such. Thuma mina has to fill the people of South Africa, one and all with a renewed sense of patriotism public duty. It is a chant of a people rising to grapple with their own plight, particularly their socioeconomic condition(s), and taking their quest for total liberation into their own hands; “a time for each of us to say ‘send me’”

Absolutely immortal and infinitely spurring are the words of President Nelson Mandela the universally acclaimed Father of the free South Africa; ‘It is in your hands.’ He had done his part, and in the twilight years of his life sought to make sure the nation was alive to the fact that since political liberation had been attained, all and sundry in the new democratic state, were empowered, and duty-bound to accomplish the rest of the freedoms for themselves and the nation as such in every respect.        

How sobering, reawakening, inspirational and instructive should it have been especially to a Judeo-Christian soul, or a believer in any religion or denomination under God, when the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Reverend Father Thabo Makgoba commented on Thuma mina recently. The Metropolitan made sure when giving his concluding input at the 2018 Desmond Tutu Annual Lecture, to remind and educate his [auditorium and media] audience that ‘thuma mina is a well-known audaciously altruistic statement of the Prophet Isaiah of the Old Testament, found in Isaiah Chapter 6 in the Holy Bible;

“Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying; ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’  Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

It must have become somewhat puzzling in a country where the majority of the leading or mainstream religions or faiths are rooted in the Old Testament that such an eloquent exhortation had seemed to have escaped the recall and attention of the masses and had not kindled a fitting popular response.

Just imagine the impact, if for a group of Fridays, Saturdays Sundays or other designated days of worship, each and every service in the churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other congregations or assemblies in the length and breadth of our motherland, the theme of every sermon, devotion, testimonial, witness, worship session or bible study was “thuma mina in our contemporary socio-spiritual context?”  

At a comparable political event back on 20 June 1961, the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy of the United States of America, in his inaugural address; “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” in the memorable steadfast call by one of the loftiest global statesmen of the 20th century.   

Thuma mina has the power to exorcise and banish to netherworld of sluggards, the severely debilitating demon of entitled-dependency that breeds indolence and reliance on ‘hand-outs.’ It is good for ridding the country of that ‘the government shall provide’ sense which has underdeveloped and destroyed many former ‘colonies’ and previously oppressed nations in Africa and other parts of the world.  It affirms and promotes the virtues of self-help and volunteerism ikakhulukazi (more especially) for people and communities in a developmental state.

Stephen Bantu Biko and the black consciousness movement in the late 60s and mid to late 70s provided a desperately needed impetus to the revolutionary odyssey of South Africa towards its liberation, supercharging a struggle that was conducted on a rock-hard platform of unity and determined common purpose. Black solidarity, amongst other things, helped the liberation movement to cultivate a trans-ideological, even agnostic, pervasive human unanimity amongst all freedom-loving and progressive countrywomen and countrymen irrespective of race, gender or political organization affiliation or association.

The people of South Africa had taken the matter of their freedom into their own hands. They were resolute that none but they themselves would deliver them from the shackles of apartheid, one of the most ruthless forms of oppression and dehumanization. This must be why even at this stage in the national democratic revolution (NDR), the almost idiomatic conscience-pricking refrain persists, “the people’s freedom was never free.”  

With the onset and entrenchment of Black Consciousness was born a new kind of redemptive sense of rediscovery, reaffirmation and re-enhancement amongst the oppressed disenfranchised masses, as a powerful and sustainable collective sense of self-worth, self-reliance, self-respect, affirmative pride, dignity and determination to see the nation through to its full political and economic freedom. That is the reinvigoration (imvuselelo) that thuma mina spirit brings in, answering a prayer of an exasperated citizen. Shocked by the looting, burning and destruction of private and public property and infrastructure during a service delivery protest a concerned woman sighed; “this self-destruction just has end.”

South Africa has to regain its legendary social anger management and conflict resolution skills. Thuma mina must harness the massive of reservoir energy into a positive force for total emancipation and social cohesion.

Professor Bongani Aug Khumalo is the Chairman of the International Institute of Business Management. He is also a scholar in Economic, Management Sciences and Corporate and Political Communication.