A president for grown-ups

Here is something that is worth thinking about. South African has had five presidents since achieving democracy. Each has been very different, and each has represented our journey towards adulthood.

Here is why I say so.

President Nelson Mandela was our first “teacher” and much like any nursery school educator, focused on the basics. With his guidance we learned to draw pictures of rainbows. And then we understood that we were the rainbows. That we are all the colours on the spectrum and that together we could create a magnificent picture.

White South Africans under his gentle guidance began to learn that “sharing is caring”. Yet, he made sure that we weren’t too quick to deal with many of the uncomfortable stuff. Mandela’s kindergarten seemed to adopt the approach that there is plenty of time later on to broach those conversations. Instead, he seemed to suggest, we should first learn to get along. We should watch sports together, we should sing and dance and have fun.

And we did.

Primary school was a shock. It came too soon, and we were not ready for the dramatic shift in the teaching approach. We left the warm embrace of Mandela and walked towards the man that awaited us at the gate of our new environment.

He shook hands formally and it was immediately clear that he was intellectual and distant. Thabo Mbeki was a bit advanced for us and we weren’t sure how to cope with it. We also weren’t convinced that he ever cared much for us – even though I am certain that he did.

You know those teachers who would be happier teaching the older kids? That was Mbeki. He never seemed comfortable how to deal with us and what he could or couldn’t tell us. And so, not meaning to alarm us about crime or Aids, he let us believe that African potatoes was the cure and that we should worry about the Zimbabwean situation. He was taking care of it and we should concentrate on being children. But we were growing up and we knew he wasn’t levelling with us.

And so, we didn’t really object, as we got a bit older, when they replaced him with substitute teacher in the form of Kgalema Motlanthe who seemed to care for us as only a substitute teacher could.

Then came Jacob Zuma, a man who was very capable of showering love when he chose to. It was Jacob Zuma who lead us into our wild and irresponsible adolescent years.

The Zuma high school was chaos. Rules didn’t apply. Prefects were on the “take” and the teachers were corrupt. There was no order. The principal sold whatever equipment that the school owned and he laughed whilst he did. And we laughed too. Because he was fun. And no one seemed worried about the future, so why should we. We were adolescents after all.

Zuma introduced us to sex (and showers) and greed and through him we met some dangerous friends who repulsed and intrigued us at the same time.

It was a party. And who doesn’t love a good party?

Until it ended. Then we looked around us, and we were horrified and ashamed. Our beautiful school lay in ruins and we felt embarrassed about what we had become. We knew then that it was time to grow the hell up.

We needed a new president and Cyril Ramaphosa was just the man.

One of the characteristics of adulthood is an understanding that no one is perfect. And he is not perfect. But he is talented, wise and smart and he treats us like the adults he needs us to be. We believe that he wants what is best for the country.

One of the criticisms levelled against Ramaphosa is the slow speed that he seems to operate at. Our need for immediate and quick solutions might be understandable and valid. But it is also a sign of impulsive youth that requires instant gratification.

Ramaphosa’s style is anything but that and one of the things that we will learn from him is that things take time. He is addressing corruption and the economy and progress is being made. We just need to readjust our expectation with regard to the time frame.

South Africans are on a journey. We have come a long way from the naïve days of Mandela, we lived through the perplexing and confusing Mbeki days and we survived the adolescent Zuma period. We need to recognise and acknowledge how far we have come. We need to not forget the lessons learned along the way and to never repeat them.

More importantly, we need to reach back to our toddler days and once again start drawing pictures of rainbows.

This article was first published on News24.com