Dreams of Wakanda
“I dream of a South Africa where the first entirely new city built in the democratic era rises, with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals, and factories”
– Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Afirca, 20 June 2019
President Ramaphosa shared plans for future South Africa in his State of the Nation Address after being elected in the General election on the 8th May, 2019. His visionary speech that borrowed Martin‘s Luther King dream anaphora not only received ovations from his fellow African National Congress (ANC) parliamentarians but also sharp criticism from the opposition during the debate in the National Assembly, which mocked his dream and put it back in its place.
It is Tuesday morning and we are walking through The Company Gardens at the foot of the Table Mountain in central Cape Town. We are heading to the Parliament of South Africa to attend a debate in response to President’s Ramaphosa State of the Nation Address. As we proceed to the edge of this peaceful heritage sight full of historical memorials and all kinds of wildlife, we arrive at the parliament. In front of our eyes stands a magnificent Neoclassical building, one of Cape Town’s architectural gems. Our contact Craig is already waiting for us, ready to lead us through the labyrinth of security checks that precedes the entrance to the National Assembly.
Today, in the National Assembly hall, over eight ministers from various political parties will contest the claims and promises made by the President in his recent speech. We enter the debate just on time to hear the first opposition speaker from the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane. After we take our seats in the gallery with other onlookers, I finally have the chance to see the grand National Assembly for the first time. My attention is immediately taken by a group of ministers wearing striking red uniforms with berets and headscarves, which reminds me of the outfits of people that fill up cars at the gas stations here; they are known as the Economic Freedom Fighters or EFF and the revoluntionaries of the assembly. The second thing that attracts my attention is the number of women and young people amongst the parliamentarians, which is a nice change from the tired old male deputies that we see in the Czech Parliament. Right below us are sat all the ministers grouped with their fellow party members. On the far right there are members of the DA. To their left sit the EFF. And From my left all the way to the center of the room the ANC majority and ruling party is seated, including the President Ramaphosa.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of DA, the second strongest party in the Parliament, and the official opposition to the ANC, is a young charismatic leader who opens with an impressive speech in which he appeals to the president to step out of the row of former ANC presidents and fight corruption instead of embracing it. ANC corruption affairs are the uniting topic for many of the following speeches by the opposition speakers. Nevertheless, the ANC party, which is notorious for its corruption affairs, denies or ignores all the attacks and focuses instead on promoting their own political agenda.
After the speech of the leader of the DA, another speaker is welcomed with an energic stand-up ovation by the red uniforms. It is the leader of the EFF party, a radical and militant economic emancipation movement whose support has been growing lately mainly thanks to its numerous young voters. Julius Malema, a short, tired looking man in his early forties gives a confident, sarcastic and a somewhat outrageous speech in which he mocks the president and his state of the nation address. In his speach he addresses the president saying that he is dreaming about all the things he wants to achieve, while he seems to forget that he is the most powerful man in the country. He urges him to stop dreaming and use that power since he is the one who can actually change things. The following negative reaction by the ANC ministers fades away in the cheerful applause of the EFF’s red uniforms. Even though it seems inappropriate in this formal environment, shouting and whistling awakens everyone from their inactive state of listening and brings energy to the debate. The speaker continues to mock the president saying that his dreaming reminds him of being in a bar with a hundred Rand bill and wanting to buy a cold drink but instead of doing it he only dreams about it. Meaning the ANC has the money and ability to make positive change but still does nothing.
Finally, after several other speeches, our contact Craig arranges a meeting with Minister of Social Development‘s Chief of Staff, who takes us to his office and tells us about his various responsibilities and duties, his time in the foreign office, and describes the Minister’s job. Unfortunately, he is not able to arrange a meeting with the minister as she is very busy, so we close the day by taking him out for a late lunch and a cool glass of Castle Lager instead.
Being able to witness such a historical moment was a precious experience and I believe everyone found something that was special to them on this field trip. For some, it could have been the all-encompassing architectural beauty, for others the gravity of the moment or the presence of politicians and famous public figures. For me, the most special thing about it was the natural, energic and honest approach of South Africans which reflected in their passionate speeches. Moreover, although we did not experience any scuffles or one on one fistfights that we know from YouTube videos from African political scene, there were some harsh exchanges of words provoked especially by the EFF members. I sincerely hope that President Ramaphosa will effectively implement his political visions and will not chase the utopian dream of Wakanda so that South Africa can become the country South Africans hope for.