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We seem to be back on track

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South Africa has a very long walk to freedom ahead, but after a detour of almost a decade, it would appear we are back on track

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THE behaviour on Friday night spoke volumes – and all of it was good. For the first time in years, the president of the Republic of South Africa was able to present his State of the Nation address to a joint sitting of Parliament without walkouts or interminable disruptions.

It was even more remarkable given the tumultuous days that had preceded it: the postponement of the original scheduled Sona the week before, while Jacob Zuma was still president, and then last week, the gradual and consistent ratcheting up of pressure on him, until he fell on his sword late on Wednesday night.

Everything moved very quickly after that. Cyril Ramaphosa, the victor at the all-important Nasrec elective conference only eight weeks before, and Zuma’s erstwhile deputy, was sworn in on Thursday, and by Friday was delivering his inaugural State of the Nation address.

And what an address that turned out to be. There had been many who had feared that Ramaphosa would effectively have been reading a statement that would have been prepared for his predecessor, as Zuma had resigned in ignominy less than 48 hours before.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Instead this was a statement by a man who has been waiting in the wings, training for this moment, since the highest office was first denied him almost 20 years ago.

Ramaphosa’s Sona was sombre, but tinged with joy; honest, yet gentle; bereft of platitudes and filled with plans.

It immediately imbued the world beyond Cape Town with hope: of a new beginning, of a leader who understands the weight of expectation upon his shoulders, of hope of that chimeric better life for all.

The opposition seemed to understand the gravitas of the moment. They were careful not to spoil it by appearing churlish, where in the past the previous president would have spoken only to a captive audience of party faithful, after the opposition had either left in protest or been beaten and bloodied on their way to the exit.

South Africa has a very long walk to freedom ahead, but after a detour of almost a decade, it would appear we are back on track.