IF I were President Jacob Zuma, I would think about John Langalibalele Dube, Sefako Mapogo Makgatho, Zaccheus Richard Mahabane, Josiah Gumede, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma, James Moroka, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and even Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki; the men who formed and carried the African National Congress and, by extension, contributed to the realisation of our collective dream of a free South Africa, from 1912 to 2007.
But I would not stop there; I would also think about the dozens of other South African men and women who, over the decades, gave up self and family life to contribute to a dream, a shared dream of a rules-driven South Africa where all would be equal before the law, irrespective of ethnicity, religion, gender and other forms of identity.
They came from all corners of our vast, diverse, country over time and held hands from across politically engineered divides, literally and figuratively, because they believed it was possible to rebuild together.
In the same spirit, I would think about Lillian Ngoyi, Ruth First, Helen Joseph, Adelaide Tambo, Dulcie September, Albertina Sisulu, Zainab Asvat, Ruth Alexander, Steve Biko, Frances Baard, Njongonkulu Ndungane, Amina Cachalia, Sheena Duncan, Desmond Tutu, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Chris Hani, Nadine Gordimer, Ingrid Jonker and “the child who was shot by soldiers at Nyanga – the child who is not dead”.
I would think about David Webster, Miriam Makeba, Zubeida Jaffer, Ellen Kuzwayo, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Beyers Naudé, Antjie Krog, Charlotte Maxeke, Ruth Mompati, Victoria Mxeke, Duma Nokwe, Sister Bernard Ncube, Father Michael Lapsley, Gertrude Shope, Helen Suzman, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn, Robert Sobukwe, Tessa Wolpe and many others in the arts, in academia, in the media space and other sectors of our society, some of whom are still alive, silent witnesses of what has become of the country they gave so much for.
I would think about all these heroes and heroines of our history and the millions of ordinary South Africans, rural and urban, who are forced to watch helplessly from the sidelines as their country’s resources get plundered while they wait for the much promised “better life for all” – a line that has become a mere electioneering slogan.
I would do so to re-anchor myself to a long chain of history; to remind myself that all the sacrifices were not made for me, my family and my friends to squander on narrow, selfish ends, resulting in the collective dream becoming deferred. I would also do it to remind myself that I am just a step in a long chain of history.
Learning from the great
I would also remind myself of seminal moments in our history, specifically the moment when, in honouring the memory of Ingrid Jonker at the opening of democratic South Africa’s first Parliament, Nelson Mandela read from her poem, “The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga”.
This is what he said: “The time will come when our nation will honour the memory of all the sons, the daughters, the mothers, the fathers, the youth and the children who, by their thoughts and deeds, gave us the right to assert with pride that we are South Africans, that we are Africans and that we are citizens of the world.”
He went on: “The certainties that come with age tell me that among these we shall find an Afrikaner woman who transcended a particular experience and became a South African, an African and a citizen of the world. Her name is Ingrid Jonker. She was both a poet and a South African. She was both an Afrikaner and an African. She was both an artist and a human being.”
I would remind myself of all of this and of the fact that in my hands sits the torch of South Africa. Like the Olympic torch that has been passed down in history with its flame intact, I have the historic duty and honour to ensure that when my term ends, I shall pass the torch to a worthy successor, transparently elected by the people of South Africa, in a brighter and more vibrant state.
In doing so, I would have demonstrated to my fellow South Africans and the watching world that I have done my best to keep the dream alive.
I am mindful that my name will be recorded in our history books alongside many other illustrious ones; names against which it will be ranked.
Finally, I will always remember that while we have come a long way as a nation and as a country, much more remains to be done. No one man, his family and his friends can attribute to themselves the right to own the fruits of our history, or to defer our collective dream of a South Africa that cares for all of her people.
The torch of our country belongs to all South Africans. Those who are entrusted to hold it can only do so for a defined period before they have to pass it on to another democratically elected leader.