from the ed­i­tor

JANA MARAIS

Finweek English Edition - - CONTENTS -

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.”

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