For years, intelligentsia, civil society and even politicians like Bantu Holomisa believed that a national dialogue would heal the wounds of South Africans in a way that would truly put the past behind and open up the road for the future.
It was even proposed at the height of State Capture, when former presidents FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki proposed that a national dialogue is what South Africa needed. While that initiative was moot from the beginning, it was meant to be a type of trauma counselling for the nation.
When Cyril Ramaphosa ascended to the presidency, he understood the despair the Zuma Years had brought on the country and capitalised on it in the form of the ‘New Dawn’ narrative. Thuma Mina, he later explained, was meant to mobilise society around a common vision – a move pundits described as both ambitious and brilliant.
But over the past few weeks, it seems the various forms of consultation over land reform and transformation in mining have pulled people further apart rather than brought them closer together.
This weekend, Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe extended the deadline for inputs on the draft mining charter until the end of August because a summit aimed at thrashing out differences exposed how far apart interested stakeholders truly are in their approach to transforming this sector.
Mantashe acknowledged the existing hostility and mistrust between workers and mining bosses – but was optimistic of the role of consultation in finding one another. He denied that it was a talk shop at all, but many participants believed it was first and foremost an attempt to paper over the cracks.
For Mantashe, he did things by the book. He held extensive consultations before putting together the draft mining charter – 11 mining areas in all nine provinces. He considered the concerns of the workers, the communities, the experts and the mining bosses and came up with a draft mining charter he believed was a good compromise.
Yet, over the weekend, the input at the summit in Boksburg was one of contradiction and deep pain. Simply put, it seemed the workers were distrustful of mining companies and rejected parts of the charter that favoured them. Mining companies sought to prove that their age-old argument of empowering workers comes at the cost of investment, hence affecting jobs.
For Mantashe, who started as a unionist in the mines, this is not a foreign space. He commands more support and co-operation than his predecessors did. Nevertheless, the levels of mistrust between employers and employees in the mining sector is far too deep to be solved through dialogue.
Mantashe conceded that building trust is not an overnight event – it takes time, he said. And that may indeed be the case. But it may also be that ours is a dark reality where the more we talk, the further away from each other we walk.
There were similar scenes regarding the land reform question and the parallel processes of public consultation on whether or not Section 25 of the Constitution should be amended to allow for expropriation of land without compensation.
Much like the discussions around the mining charter, the dialogue seemed to be a push and pull from those clinging to what they have and those reaching for what they want. It is all turning out to be a balancing act of self-preservation from the beneficiaries – and frustration from the victims – of apartheid.
There were emotionally charged scenes at the public hearings on land with some white people genuinely afraid that they would be immediately dispossessed of their land and black people desperate for access to any form of land 25 years after apartheid ended.
On the political front, the land question has become the newest football in the political discord that persists. A remark made by former president Kgalema Motlanthe in an ANC land summit, that some traditional leaders act like tinpot dictators when it comes to the communal land they are entrusted with, has further strained political discord.
Last week, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini held an imbizo of his subjects to discuss the land question and the proposal that the Ingonyama Trust be moved from his control to the state’s. Again, a forum for consultation was a sounding board for absurd threats that Zulus will leave South Africa and take KwaZulu-Natal with them.
Since then Ramaphosa has met with the king and apologised, but the problem still persists. There is a strong view in the ANC that traditional land should be in the control of the state and that should exclude the Ingonyama Trust.
Despite the good intentions of these consultations, it is evident that talking alone won’t bring together what apartheid, and its related inequality, took decades to tear apart.
As is the case in counselling, acknowledging the extent of the trauma is often a step closer to healing. But the damage is far too serious to end with consultation alone. If the mining charter is not adopted and implemented adequately it comes with a greater risk of upheaval. People are now vested in it through the consultative process and will be expecting the outcomes they want. The same goes for the land question.
While it may be cathartic, talking may even take this country beyond the most throbbing pains of the past. The wounds themselves will take many more decades to heal. DM
In other news...
July 18 marks Nelson Mandela day. All over the country, South African citizens devote 67 minutes to charitable causes in memory of Madiba. It's a great initiative and one of those few occasions in South Africa where we come together as a nation in pursuit of a common cause. An annual 67 minutes isn't going to cut it though.
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