South Africa

Op-Ed: Zuma’s tenure has created an opportunity for people to re-imagine the South Africa they want

By Mthandazo Ndlovu 7 August 2017

South Africa has failed to dismantle the economic legacy of the colonial and apartheid rule. The next elections are likely to provide voters with an opportunity to elect a government based on issues that affect them daily, and their quest for just and democratic governance. By MTHANDAZO NDLOVU.

In an ideal world, democracy rests on the principles of people’s participation, freedom of choice, human rights and justice. In the case of South Africa, democracy can be traced to the birth of constitutionalism, which was a multi-party negotiated outcome.

The people and their will should be at the centre of democracy especially as it relates to the advancement of a just world without poverty and inequality, where power and resources are shared fairly, and everyone lives in dignity.

South Africa is now 23 years into a constitutional democracy, post decades of apartheid and colonial settler rule. The constitutional democratic South Africa is a society that is still taking shape and the nature of the political system is still very much contested, thus creating great opportunities for positive change as well as real risks.

South Africa has made impressive progress in aligning the legal and institutional infrastructure with the requirements of our much-deliberated constitutional dispensation. The Government of South Africa has developed and adopted a vast array of laws and policies aimed at transforming society and empowering previously disadvantaged and marginalised groups.

However, South Africa continues to face severe challenges to equitable delivery of essential services, generating regular service delivery protests by marginalised sectors of the population frustrated by the slow pace of development and lack of services for the poor in the country.

South Africa has failed to dismantle the economic legacy of the colonial and apartheid rule. Inequality is predominantly racialised and takes a gendered dimension, millions of south Africans remain disposed of their land, coupled with higher levels of joblessness.

The next elections are likely to provide voters with an opportunity to elect a government based on issues that affect them daily, and their quest for just and democratic governance.

Millions of poor South Africans are without decent homes, landless and without access to water and sanitation. The South African government has dismally failed to build and restore a sense of human dignity and more so protection of women and girls from violence.

For a long time, South Africa has been trying to position itself as a democratic developmental state, conscious of its influence elsewhere and the extent to which its future is linked to that of the rest of Africa and the global south. Like all its sister southern African nations, South Africa is starting to show early signs of intolerance to actions of civil society, coupled with declining resources for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), weakened CSO (civil society organisations) capacity to analyse and define its role post 1994, while declining levels of transparency and accountability have created an urgent need for active citizenship or people’s participation in both policy and political processes.

Both the economy and politics have become factional in South Africa. The rise of elitism and dominance of business interest groups in the economy only serves as a barrier to democratic equality and progress.

This calls for a deeper and broader reflection about South Africa’s political system, model of democracy and basic organisation of the economy. In addition, elite capture and inequality are problems found in most countries in the global south. Citizens in those countries have acted to resist and reclaim their power. To disrupt high levels of corruption and severity of state capture, society needs to interrogate and deepen its understanding and impact of state capture on the effective delivery of public goods and services at a local level.

The governing alliance led by the ANC is still the main fulcrum of political power in South Africa. The governing party, has tremendously lost moral leadership, and their agenda-setting and electoral legitimacy amongst the poor working class. While this may raise concerns for stability, the shift could also represent an opportunity to strengthen accountability, for people to re-imagine the South Africa they want, including its political system and democratic traditions.

In his recent publication entitled When Zuma Goes, Ralph Mathekga, believes that Zuma’s tenure as the President of South Africa has ushered an incredible opportunity for what could become a major social and political realignment since the advent of democracy in South Africa. Indeed, it is under Zuma’s tenure that South Africans have come to the reality that they need to redefine how they relate to political authority in the country. Further it is under Zuma’s tenure that the disconnect between a political mandate demonstrated by electoral victory on one hand, and the legitimacy to exercise, make decisions and exercise power on the other hand have become apparent. Under Zuma’s tenure, the governing party, the ANC, has lost legitimacy to make decisions and govern despite having secured 62% of the votes in the last elections. This is coupled with weakening state capacity to project the future and lead society into the “The South Africa We Want” that is transformed, prosperous, non-racial and democratic based on the will of the people.

It is therefore important for broader civil society to begin to drive conversation regarding how to reflect on the “South Africa We Want”, the type of public leadership brought about by the existing political system and what are broader questions that the country needs to reflect upon to understand the long-term impact of the current political and governance system.

As a society we need to critically reflect on some of the following questions: What kind of a democratic developmental state does South Africa require? Does the current model of democracy and political system respond to contemporary challenges and people’s needs? To what extent has the democratic dispensation delivered meaningful and transformative outcomes to the people of South Africa? More so, to what extent does the negotiated post 1994 democratic rule and political system fundamentally address the root causes of many societal ills deeply rooted in the colonial and apartheid past and further exacerbated by weakened state capacity? Such social and political ills include multi-dimensional inequality, injustice and poverty characterised by land and asset poverty, limited access to water and sanitation, health care and education, limited political participation, and unequal distribution of power etc), Does the political system allow for effective checks and balances over public representatives and institutions in support of democratic governance?

All sociétal formations must support calls for an inclusive dialogue about the state of democracy and the need to ensure that a strong independent voice and civil society organisations participate in processes that affect citizen’s lives and in ensuring that government officials at all levels are accountable and transparent in fulfilling their constitutional obligations.

Considering that the vast majority of citizens remain landless, hungry and jobless, the nation can expect to witness escalated racial tensions, breakdowns in societal relations threatening stability and democratic gains. The rise of elitism and dominance of business interest groups in the economy only serves as a barrier to democratic equality and progress. DM

Mthandazo Ndlovu is Oxfam South Africa’s Democracy and Governance Manager

Photo: South Africa housing and land protest. Photo: KIM LUDBROOK (EPA)


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