from the editor
watching US President Barack Obama’s farewell speech, which he made in Chicago on 10 January, one can’t help but feel a bit jealous of the Americans. Oh, to have a president who doesn’t shy away from subjects like the economy, race, immigration, rising inequality, the impact of automation on middle-class jobs, security, and the need to rebuild democratic institutions.
At home, the race for a new president is firmly underway, with the ANC Women’s League coming out in support of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission and President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife. Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have publicly expressed their support for deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to take over the reins when Zuma’s term comes to an end in 2019. Other possible contenders who have been mentioned are Zweli Mkhize, ANC treasurer-general, and Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary general.
On paper, they all have impressive track records, albeit patchy in places, and they certainly can’t be faulted on their loyalty to the ANC (and, arguably, South Africa). But how wonderful it would’ve been to have a few more options, and for every South African adult to have the opportunity to vote directly for the country’s president.
In his farewell speech, Obama had some advice for Americans who feel frustrated with their political system and the dysfunction of Congress; who don’t trust the institutions meant to protect them; who want ethics and transparency in public service. The only way to fix it is to participate, Obama said. It depends “on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging”.
Reminiscing about his 20s, when he first moved to Chicago and started working with church groups, Obama described the city as the place “where I learnt that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it”.
So his advice to Americans – many of whom also feel dispirited about their country’s next president – was the following: “It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy. […] It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.
“If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organising. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clip board, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.
“Show up, dive in, stay at it.”