As celebrity endorsements go, they don’t come much more gilt-edged than from the mouth of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States.
So, no wonder our own president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was grinning from ear to ear at the Nelson Mandela 100 lecture delivered by Obama in Johannesburg this week.
The last time Obama was in town, it was for Mandela’s funeral back in 2013 and the crowd booed our then head of state, Jacob Zuma. This time around, those attending the lecture sang songs in praise of Ramaphosa and Obama acknowledged that our new president had given this country hope.
Obama’s endorsement was a significant triumph for Ramaphosa, who has been under fire from all sides in recent weeks, for his allegedly “weak” national and ANC leadership and for the delay in getting to grips with the state capture probes. That’s because South Africans tend to be overly cynical and critical and sometimes only see good when it is pointed out to us by outsiders.
So, Ramaphosa and the ANC will have been given a significant boost by Obama’s presence and his comments – not in the least because there are striking similarities to Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina (Send Me) campaign to get South Africans to roll up their sleeves and bring about change; and Obama’s old “Yes We Can” message about change in America.
That all bodes well for the ANC’s prospects at the elections next year, especially given that its opponents are fragmented and disorganised and don’t have “star power” on their side.
However, whether Obama’s encouragement will be enough to dissipate the growing disenchantment with Ramaphosa across many sectors remains to be seen.
We must remember that Ramaphosa has an enormous task ahead of him, and strong opponents within the ANC and elsewhere.
Yet, for all that, he is still our best hope.