Will the real Tintswalo please stand up?

William Saunderson-Meyer on the imaginary character who ended up at the centre of the SONA debate


There has been no shortage of volunteers to put flesh on the imaginary bones of Tintswalo, the “born free” young woman fathered by the African National Congress 30 years ago and drawn to the attention of the country by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address.

In the main, this SONA was a lacklustre effort by a tired president. Less state of the nation that we live in, than the state of the nation that will miraculously spring into existence if voters extend the ANC’s guardianship to the 35-year mark. Basically a reprise of his “new dawn” riff in 2019 but with a sentimental human twist — Tintswalo.

Democracy’s child fathered by the ANC, explained Ramaphosa, the beloved Tintswalo had been endowed by her ubaba with a substantial trousseau. She was among the first beneficiaries of a child support grant and free health care. She grew up in a house provided, along with free water and electricity, by the state. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Her education, similarly, was free all the way through to a tertiary qualification. When she started working she was able “to progress and thrive” because of the ANC employment equity and economic empowerment policies. As a result, Tintswalo has been able to save, start a family, move into a better house, and live a better life.

Lacking anything meaty in the SONA address to get their teeth into, the MPs were quick to get into the spirit of things. Everyone loves story time.

In the subsequent debate, Parliament initially took on the air of a revivalist meeting. An array of ANC MPs queued to “give witness” to having experienced the beatifically transformational Touch of Tintswalo. 

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu contradicted Ramaphosa’s assertion that Democracy was Tintswalo’s Mum. “I am standing here as the mother of Tintswalo,” she confessed. She was also, she told the Assembly, “an auntie to Tintswalo and a grandmother to Tintswalo”.

After staking claim to the entire matriarchal line, Zulu was willing to be generous on the patriarchal. “Here we have,” she said encompassing her proud male ANC comrades, “the grandfathers, uncles and fathers of Tintswalo.” 

And while the rest of us, of course, can’t claim direct kinship with Tintswalo, there’s a place for all of us under the ANC’s wan sun. South Africans, said Zulu, should collectively “reach out to the ANC government” since its “sole purpose of existence is to change you into a better Tintswalo.”

Ronald Lamola, however, was having none of it. No second-fiddle role for the svelte Justice minister.

“I am Tintswalo!” proclaimed Ronnie, who was 10-going-on-11 at the time of what was obviously not a virgin birth. To the disappointment perhaps of many, it soon became clear that the dapper minister was not coming out of the LGBTQ+ closet but speaking metaphorically.

Lamola explained that without the ANC government’s tertiary student financing, “I would not be standing in front of you as a member of Parliament, an attorney of the High Court of SA having appeared in the highest court, the ICJ (International Court of Justice), on global affairs…,” he said. 

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, too, was a quick study. He said he was “Uncle Sputla” and he had heard dear Tintswalo’s “anger and cries”. This was a tad over-eager and off-message, raising ANC frowns, since until then Tintswalo had been living in an ANC-created Utopia where life was bliss. 

But Uncle Sputla tried his best to recover. “To you, Tintswalo, I say, the end of load shedding is indeed in sight. The future is indeed bright.” 

This echoed Ramaphosa’s SONA promise that a “better time is coming” and that load shedding was virtually over. Rather inconveniently — the ANC claims sabotage — no sooner were the words out of Ramaphosa’s mouth than Eskom had to go to Stage 6 load shedding, which averages out to nine hours of power outages per day over each four-day cycle. 

Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi was also a bit off-key. While at 65 he’s patently too old to claim to be Tintswalo, it seems that he may at least have been present at her birth. In those days, in the 1990s, he had to perform caesarean sections without the benefit of an assisting anaesthetist. But everyone , including Tintswalo, knows that things are now better under an ANC government.

“You can’t hide the truth because truth is like liquor in your stomach,” Motsoaledi said cryptically. “You can’t hide liquor in your stomach.”

The opposition parties had their own Grimms’ version of what the Democratic Alliance’s Chief Whip, Siviwe Gwarube, described as a “revisionist and dishonest fairy tale … a fabricated narrative” that was an insult to the nightmarish lived reality of Tintswalo and most South Africans. ActionSA’s leader Herman Mashaba said that Tintswalo had been “hoodwinked” and that “reality outside the Ramaverse” was far different from that described by Ramaphosa. 

DA leader John Steenhuisen said Tintswalo was sad, angry and disillusioned. She was unemployed, living in a shack without water and electricity, her father had been murdered, and she feared for her safety. 

“In South Africa today, there is a 70% chance that Tintswalo will be unemployed. There is a 50% chance that she is one of the 30 million people who live below the poverty line.

“Any day, Tintswalo could become one of the 75 people murdered, or one of the 115 women who are raped or subjected to gender-based violence each and every day.

“Should she get sick, Tintswalo may die in a state hospital that has no electricity due to load shedding. And when she opens her taps, there is no longer any water coming out. The fact of the matter is that Tintswalo’s hopes and dreams as a child of democracy have been stolen by the ANC,” Steenhuisen said.

The official opposition is boxing clever here. Despite the ANC's mangled allusions and strangled analogies, it would be foolish to deny the ANC government’s remarkable early successes in improving the lives of poor South Africans.

But the ANC, too, has an even bigger problem — what to do about the equally remarkable destruction of South Africa’s economy and social fabric following President Thabo Mbeki’s ousting in 2009. Bereft of any evidence of a turnaround — and plenty of evidence of accelerated decay — the Ramaphosa administration’s strategy seems to be to take credit for any advances between 1994 and 2009, deny responsibility for any setbacks since, and to promise, as is the denouement in every good fairy tale, that everyone will live happily ever after.

If that doesn’t work, just tell the voters to suck it up. Brandishing an admonishing finger at parliamentarians, Sylvia Lucas, the ANC’s deputy chair of the National Council of Provinces, said, “Load shedding is not the end of the world”. 

Take that, Tintswalo, you spoilt little bitch.

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