'We need to generate a momentum amongst citizens to demand change in the quality of governance': iLIVE
Negotiating the transition of roles of liberation movement to governing party..
Africa continues to wrestle with the challenges of transition from post-colonial underdevelopment to realise the dream of ‘claiming the twenty-first century’. For Africa to successfully claim its rightful place in the globally interconnected and interdependent world it will have to make a fundamental shift from liberation struggle politics to democratic politics. Africa suffers from weak political, social and economic institutional systems and frameworks for planning and implementing appropriate policies.
Systems of governance based on liberation movement politics have characterised many of the approaches of governments in post-colonial Africa. Former leaders of resistance and liberation movements have tended to see themselves as the natural leaders of governments. Insufficient thought seems to have been given by African citizens and leaders to the possibility of a mismatch between the skills set required for governance and that of freedom fighters.
In Architects of Poverty Moeletsi Mbeki identifies the failure of leadership by Africa’s elites as being at the heart of its inability to harness its considerable natural and human resources to establish sustainable prosperity for its people.[i] At the heart of the failure of leadership is the lack of a frame of reference for governance that makes a fundamental break with the colonial past. Leaders of most liberation movements derived their education and training from the very systems they later set out to oppose or even wage war against. But opposition to a system does not necessarily signal a commitment to a radically different system of governance.
It is striking how many African countries have replicated the very colonial governance systems they purported to abhor. The very fact of African countries today defining themselves as Francophone, Lusophone and Anglophone demonstrates how deeply Africa has imbibed the values, systems, languages and symbols – replete with white wigs – of their former masters. Embarrassing as this is, it is but an external manifestation of a deeper and more devastating reality which is that most former liberation movements have failed to make the transition into credible democratic governance machines framed by the pursuit of the ideals of social justice that inspired the very struggles for freedom they committed to.
Prince Mashele, in The Death of Our Society, puts the blame squarely on the failure to acknowledge ‘the crippling trap that a number of post-colonial African societies have proven incapable of escaping heroism’.[ii]Heroism is defined here as ‘a way of thinking that makes multitudes of people believe that their social, political and economic fates depend on the actions or benevolence of special individuals in society who possess extraordinary abilities and powers that are beyond ordinary citizens’.[iii]
South Africa has not escaped this trap. As we shall discuss below, it seems that our country received the most complex and binding trap of them all. The blessing of a leader in the person of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela as the hero of our struggle for liberation and the first president of democratic South Africa comes with the curse of entrapment. Our ability to escape the trap of heroic politics and make the transition to a more open society and true multiparty democracy depends on our willingness to take the risk of going beyond liberation politics. Such a step requires vision and courage to forge a path that many African countries have failed to follow.
On 11 February 1990, the day of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he made the following statement:The white monopoly of political power must be ended, and we need a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to address the inequalities of apartheid and create a genuine democratic South Africa.
Sampie Terreblanche refers to this statement in Lost in Transformation:
It is twenty-two years since Mandela envisaged his Great Agenda, but very little of his agenda has been realised. The new politico-economic system that was institutionalised during the negotiations turned out to be highly dysfunctional. Granted, the socio-economic legacy bequeathed by the apartheid regime to the ANC was in many aspects a bankrupt one. But one can see with the wisdom of hindsight that without doubt the opportunity to create a politico-economic system that could have addressed the deeply ingrained and deep-seated poverty problem was squandered when a neo-liberal politico-economic system was institutionalised to serve the narrow interests of the old white elite and the emerging black elite…’[iv]
Not too long ago, I made a written,public confession and apology to the youth of South Africa. In it I admitted that my generation had assumed that the idealism we had shared would dictate that the transformation needed to move from freedom fighters to citizens of a democracy would occur as smoothly as caterpillars turn into butterflies.Instead we see caterpillars turning into Fat Cats and, of late, an increasing number of butterflies having to challenge the state to protect the Pillars upon which our democracy is founded and to perform on its most basic functions.
The key reason for the failure to make the transition from liberation politics to democratic politics lies in the radical difference in the values framework. Liberation movements tend to simplify socio-economic and political conflicts as simply black white issues. No ambiguity is tolerated. Democratic politics on the other hand is the art of the possible in addressing conflicts of interest and tensions between in and out groups who have a right to express their views in an environment where freedom of expression is one of the central rights. In addition the equality principle within a democracy is often undermined by the sense of entitlement to govern because one was a member of the liberation movement and an aggrieved person from the past regimes.
The intolerance for differences of opinion within and outside of the liberation movement and the assumption of loyalty even in the face of evidence that comrades broke the law or undermined accountability are at the heart of the incompatibility between liberation and democratic politics. The strident voices against any form of criticism as anti-revolutionary are the most subversive acts against the democratic principles embedded in our constitutional democracy. The ANC leadership has become more and more intolerant and less and less willing to appreciate the importance of listening to citizens as the ones to whom they are accountable. Only a radical redefinition of politics can remedy this situation. The very nature of power will have to be redefined in a new paradigm that puts the citizen back at the centre of the political process where he/she belongs.
There is no global example of success in making the transition from liberation politics to democratic politics. Britain knew better that to expect Sir Winston Churchill to lead the reconstruction process after WWII. They voted him out and put a civilian leadership in place. The Swedes also recognized that the warriors who had successfully fought off the invaders of their country, would not be the appropriate leaders of the social democracy that had to be built afterwards. They thanked them, decorated them, provided them with adequate pensions and housing and let them go. Post-colonial Africa, including South Africa have failed to learn from this history.
What are the Consequences of this failed Transition?
The failure to comprehend the enormity of the unequal distribution of income amongst South Africans and its potential to threaten our democracy was an inevitable consequence of the heroism and triumphant post-liberation politics. The following statistics reflect a grim picture:
- The distribution of income of the total population in 2008 showed that the top 20 per cent (or 10 million individuals) received 74.7 per cent of total income, while the poorest 50% (or 25 million individuals) received only 7.8 percent.
- Further, 83 per cent of the whites (or 3.7 million individuals) were among the top 20 per cent of the population; 25 per cent of coloureds (or 1.1 million individuals) were among the top 20%; and almost 60 per cent of Indians (or 740 000 individuals) were amongst the top 20 per cent (Leibrant et al SALDRU, 2010).
- The really problematic aspect of South Africa’s unequal distribution of income is that 95 per cent of Africans (or 23.7 million individuals) were amongst the poorest 50 per cent of the population, while 5 per cent of coloureds (or 1.3 million individuals) were amongst the poorest 50 per cent of the population.
- The fact that the Gini coefficient increased from 0.66 in 1992 to 0.70 in 2008 is an indication that income has become much more unequally distributed during the ‘democratic’ period (Leibrandt et al, SALDRU, September 2010).[v]
Tolerance for gross inequalities left to fester comprises one important reason that we witness today a South Africa once again teetering on the knife-edge of massive and widespread violent outbreaks. The structural inequalities that Marikana has so dramatically revealed and which has spread to other mines is not sustainable.
Knowing that equality and social justice were central to entrenching our fledgling democracy, why did we not take substantial measures to protect it? Why were we not as vigilant as our country deserved? The answer is twofold: firstly we did not anticipate that South Africa would go the way of other post-colonial African countries. Secondly we under-estimated the impact of the authoritarian culture we have all imbibed from our cultural and political history on our ability to challenge authority and hold our leaders accountable in a constitutional democracy.
In addition, our humble beginnings as individuals born in poverty by and large and our lack of experience of democratic governance and management undermined our capacity to manage the risks of handling power, money and wealth without being corrupted by them.
The ANC and its Alliance Partners’ rhetoric about the need for a second transition in 2012 is the closest we have ever come to an acknowledgement by the governing elites of their failure to govern. Any government of a constitutional democracy that has presided over 18 years of system failure in the four core functions: education, health, safety and security and employment creation,can legitimately be said to have also failed. These four core functions are fundamental pillars of socio-economic equity setting the foundation on which the opportunities for socio-economic advancement evolve.
Let us take a step back to see what we are dealing with. We have a government that cannot provide learning and teaching facilities to promote the rights and dignity of every child. Nor can it provide the learning materials needed to guide learners and teachers in the majority of schools as illustrated by the infrastructure and textbook sagas in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo Provinces. The basic function of appointing teachers and principals to nurture talents of our children is beyond its capacity in key poor provinces. Low standards are set for both teaching and learning to cover up for its inability to manage performance of teachers and other officials who are its employees. The education system taken on its own is a primary generator of poverty, inequality and has destroyed opportunities of successive generations to aspire to,and achieve, the kind of socio-economic equity which will allow them to find a path to a brighter future.
The National Planning Commission has written that “for those South Africans who are excluded from the formal economy, live in informal settlements, depend on social services which are either absent or of very poor quality; the political transition is yet to translate into a better life.”[vi]
According to Minister Trevor Manuel, who heads up the National Planning Commission,“We have gained much and reached extraordinary political milestones over the past 18 years. But we haven't arrived at the Promised Land and we are woefully behind delivering economic freedoms and rights to the majority of South Africans. Put simply: we have yet to make our magnificent Constitution a living reality for millions of South Africans.”[vii]
The rhetoric of the need for a second transition by segments of the ANC represents a real and present danger to our constitutional democracy by attempting to silence constructive criticism of its performance. It re-invents history by suggesting that a two-staged process of transformation was part of the settlement process - with the first stage focused on political and the second on socio-economic justice. Protagonists of this second transition make assertions, without a shred of evidence, that the constitution negotiated by visionary leaders across party political spectrum is an obstacle to transformation of our society into the social justice nation of our dreams.
For example, they deliberately tap into the emotive issue of land reform by charging that the constitution prevents land reform amongst others by a clause that does not even exist in the constitution - “willing buyer willing seller.” This is a classic case of a fallacy which if repeated often enough becomes fact to the hearer. The reality is that in most parts of South Africa, the state is the largest land-owner, but there is no capacity in government to turn this ownership into an advantage in the transformation process. Human settlement patterns have not changed in the last 18 years because there is little appetite nor capacity for transformative programs to dismantle apartheid geography. The little land reform that has been implemented is collapsing under monumental execution failures that leave new black owners without the means to create sustainable livelihoods let alone make the transition to commercial farming. The obstacle to land reform is not the constitution.
The threat by some leaders of the Tripartite Alliance to change the constitution at the earliest opportunity in order to remove these supposed obstacles to social justice is dangerous. Lessons must be learnt from post-colonial settings on our continent. We need to defend and protect the constitution which is the ultimate guarantor of democracy and social justice. The constitution has been the only defence available to poor communities to compel the government to perform, be it with provision of HIV/AIDS treatment, school text books or the appointment of teachers in Eastern Cape. We need to remember that it took the silence of educated middle and upper class Zimbabweans to allow Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF to destroy the economy in the name of destroying imperialism.
The devastating impact of governance failures on the quality of our human capital undermines our ability to compete in today’s knowledge-based globally connected economic environment. Our low levels of economic growth and the unsustainably high levels of unemployment especially amongst the youth estimated at more than 60%, are a direct result of these failures.
Elites including the very teachers, nurses and public officials serving in the failed public systems, have basically bought themselves out of the failing education, health and public safety systems. They rely on private services. Poor people are left to fend for themselves and made to pay for the luxurious lifestyles that rich black and white people enjoy. Unequal societies pay a heavy price for the prestige based structural hierarchies that evolve in such settings. South Africa pays more for banking services, mobile technology, food, beverages and clothing, partly because of the status attached to the ability to pay - the more expensive, the higher the status.
The failure by the state to regulate is due to a combination of conflicts of interest and incompetence by officials employed in these entities. The establishment of Chancellor House as an investment vehicle for the governing party to do business with government is the most shameful example of how the ANC has captured the state to benefit its loyalists and to stay in power. The participation of Chancellor House in investments such as Hitachi, a supplier of State Owned Entreprise, Eskom, as a black economic empowerment beneficiary, undermines the stated intentions of the black economic empowerment policy. Poor black people who are supposed to benefit from broadening the base of participants in the economy are being cheated yet again by predominantly black elites in government. The very existence of Chancellor House with its vast tentacles in the economy promotes fronting and cynicism amongst participants in the private sector.
Our inability to transform our public service and to establish a professional competent one as required by the constitution, has had a devastating impact on the quality of governance and change in the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. Those passionate about social justice should turn their attention to the importance of good governance, professionalism and intolerance of incompetence and corruption. Poor people are disproportionately affected by corruption and public service failures.
Studies everywhere in the world demonstrate that corruption is a tax on poor people. Bribes and withholding of services weigh heavily on poor people. Our level of corruption and maladministration has reached levels that now define our political culture. President Zuma stated in Parliament without any hint of irony that there is nothing wrong with politicians doing business with government. He is clearly not in touch with the reality of how such insider trading has left poor people destitute – no roads, no water, no schools, etc. Politicians serving their own business interests have no place in a constitutional democracy.
Alarming, is the Report of the latest Auditor-General, Mr Terence Nombembe, which stated that public officials at local, provincial and national levels simply ignore adverse audit reports and repeat offenders are the order of the day. The Auditor-General details serious problems in supply chain management, security of government information and accuracy of government reports. He found that people in key positions are not equipped to do what they are expected to do. A culture of impunity has set in and has become entrenched in our public service over the last 18 years.
Corruption on this scale has a direct impact on the socio-economic conditions of all South Africans. It is almost as if some people believe the proverbial pie will grow to accommodate the greed and the needs of South Africans. But it cannot! The only defence poor people have against impunity and disrespect from citizens is the constitution and other citizens. We dare not allow those who paddle fallacies about our constitution to rob poor people of their only reliable defence of their freedom and a platform for demanding social justice.
What is to be Done?
Post-colonial Africa and its supporters have ignored the role and place of citizens in establishing and strengthening democracies. The focus in the post-conflict period has focused on pacifying the belligerents that often gives them the entitlement to lead as part of government. The reality is that there is not a single post-liberation movement in Africa, perhaps in the rest of the world that has made the successful transition to democratic governance. That should embolden us to challenge the assumption of entitlement to govern by virtue of engagement in liberation struggles. On the contrary, that may well be the basis for disqualification from the governance process. For that to happen we need to ask bold questions of ourselves as citizens and our governments.
I have decided to draw on my roots and the activism we established through the Black Consciousness Movement in the early 1970s and launched the Citizens Movement on 24April this year to mobilise an active citizenry. Our analysis as the Citizens Movement is that only a people numbed by “woundedness” would tolerate what we are witnessing in our country today. South Africans – black and white – are deeply wounded by the legacy of racism, sexism and engineered inequality over the last three centuries which the past 18 years has failed to transform.
The majority of black people suffer from an inferiority complex that is deep seated – both rich and poor are affected. The humiliation of being told in more ways than one that one is inferior is deeply wounding and infuriating. But the lack of self-respect engendered leads to inward directed anger – domestic violence, community vigilantism, public violence and other self-sabotaging behaviour, including looting of public resources and supporting failure of governance. Denial of mistakes and failure is a common feature of woundedness. Wounded people also tend to be subservient to authoritarian leaders and fail to hold them accountable.
Many white people still suffer from the superiority complex that leads them to believe that they are entitled to more material benefits than their fellow black citizens by virtue of their superior qualities and hard work. There are also many who are paralysed by guilt about past racist practices and feel they have no right to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens, including criticizing majority black governments. The tendency of deferring to authority is strong and deep seated amongst white people too. Neither superiority complex nor guilt is helpful to the transformation process that is sorely needed in our country. Lessons of history are very clear - if you think of yourselves as helpless and ineffectual you sow the seeds of becoming victims of despotic governments that become your master.
South Africans need to complete the healing process that was started by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and focus on the psycho-social and economic wounds that beset our nation. We need to link hands black/white, men/women, young/old as well as rich/poor as citizens and start circles of healing amongst ourselves as a nation. There are wonderful initiatives across the country led by civil society groups and individuals that are wrestling with the challenge of healing the nation. What is needed is identifying, coalescing, galvanizing and amplifying these efforts so the whole can be bigger than the sum of the parts. We need to generate a momentum amongst citizens to demand change in the quality of governance. Middle and upper class citizens must realize that it is in their interests to speed up the elimination of poverty and destitution as part of the healing process. As the French Philosophy, Aron, so aptly remarked: “Too great a degree of inequality makes human community impossible.” No one wins in a grossly unequal society.
One of the most urgent campaigns citizens need to wage is to put to bed the sunset clause that made provision only for proportional representation in a closed party-list system based electoral system. This electoral system erodes public accountability of the elected representatives to the citizenry. This was one of the sunset clauses due for review after five years, but was retained by the ANC government with the acquiescence of opposition parties. Our electoral system has literally taken power away from voters and has given it to party bosses who decide who is on the list, in what order and ensures the loyalty of those elected to parliament. A major effort therefore needs to be made to promote civic education which will include a campaign for long overdue changes to the closed list proportional representation system.
South Africans are waking up to the truism that no democracy can function effectively and efficiently without the active engagement of citizens. The consolidation of our democracy requires citizens, the corporate sector, civil society organizations and the government to work and walk together to tackle the challenges of transforming our legacy into a success story.
I remain convinced that South Africans are a resilient people. We have in recent history demonstrated our capacity to pull back from the brink of disaster and surprise even ourselves. I have no doubt that South Africa is a country destined to turn its rich endowment in natural, mineral and human resources into greatness. The dawn of that greatness can be seen even as dark clouds are hovering on the horizon. We keep reminding ourselves that the darkest hour is often just before the bursting forth of a new day.