Opinionista Paulus Zulu 10 June 2016

The morphogenesis of a post-apartheid political normativity

Regrettably, there is very little of Dullah Omar and Joseph Moabi’s vision of social justice in the morphogenesis of post-apartheid’s political normativity 22 years into the transition, and for this the blame lies in the government of the day as the dispenser of public goods.

This is an edited version of the speech delivered by Professor Paulus Zulu at the 11th Annual Peace, Safety and Human Rights Memorial Lecture, honouring Dullah Omar and Joe Moabi and hosted by the Institute of Social and Health Sciences.

A celebration of the lives of great heroes like Dullah Omar and Joe Moabi is a celebration of a transforming liberation. Cadres like Dullah Omar and Joe Moabi were products of an epoch, but epochs are created by individuals and collectivities of people with a vision for a better society.

The ANC has been a great liberation movement that took South Africa through colonialism and apartheid to the present dispensation. Political and other social scientists agree that, as agents of social change, social movements have been primary in the theoretical debate on the transition of societies from one form to another. Liberation movements arise out of a realisation, a consciousness by a segment of society, that there is an asymmetry in the social relations and that this asymmetry comes about as a result of inequalities in the distribution of power and its attendant resources.

Historical and other arrangements give rise to a condition known as social closure, “the process by which social collectivities seek to maximise rewards by restricting access to resources and opportunities to a limited circle of eligibles”.

In colonialism and in apartheid the distinction between eligibles and non-eligibles was simple; race determined space in the allocation and distribution of resources, between eligibles and ineligibles. This constituted a gross denial of social justice to the majority who comprised the ineligibles.

The success of the ANC and the PAC lay in their lofty ideals, but above all in their moral high ground. From the founding fathers and mothers down to leaders such as Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela and Sobukwe, the ANC and the PAC boasted men and women of integrity who espoused service to humanity and transcended personal and factional issues. Their interests were primarily in South Africa and the organisations were a means to a greater ideal and not an end in themselves. Sacrifice came before personal gain.

Regrettably, there is very little of Dullah Omar and Moabi’s vision of social justice in the morphogenesis of post-apartheid’s political normativity 22 years into the transition, and for this the blame lies in the government of the day as the dispenser of public goods. It is the government that has the authority to create values in society, including creating an environment conducive to the realisation of the common good. What we observe and experience is the systematic erosion of “the animating vision of a good society, and the shared values of citizenship” by a political elite that uses rhetoric of an erstwhile liberation movement to attain its own selfish objectives.

The abnormal has become the norm. By the new normativity I am referring to a state where the ruling elite systematically and repeatedly attempts to reconstruct justice, right and wrong, proper and improper, appropriate and inappropriate, by rationalising its inappropriate actions in positively accepted terms until the practices become normative, at least to them. Hence elements within the elite manipulate institutions and processes of government for their own purposes. In doing so they hope to create a new moral hegemony.

Lately, there is much debate about the capture of the state by private financial magnates connected to the ruling elite, to the extent that the issue is dividing Parliament as well as creating rifts within the ruling party itself. Competition for political office is rife; worse, it has turned ugly as run-ups to elections are accompanied by dirty tricks, including political assassinations reminiscent of the apartheid dirty tricks perpetrated against political opponents of the state during the late 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s.

A culture of political impunity is growing to the extent that the governing party, once the doyen of democratic ideals, is riddled with factionalism caused by competition for spoils in office, with dire consequences in the quality of governance.

In South Africa, there is a serious tendency to confuse authority with intelligence. In a democracy, authority is derived power to be used in service and not to be usurped for self-aggrandisement; being in authority does not confer intellectual capability. While policy should represent the collective wisdom at a particular point in time, this does not of necessity guarantee social justice.

While representative democracy may be the most practical form of decision-making it has serious limitations if not subjected to judicious moral probity and ethical considerations. For instance, what is inherently democratic and egalitarian about executive perks such as expensive vehicles, frequent refurbishing of residences, and free air travel tickets for incumbents and family? Does the salary not cater for these so-called job requirements? Who does not pay for his or her own travel to work, or does not pay for their own accommodation, or to phrase the question differently, why is parliamentary work deemed different from any other occupation? Yet, this is policy. The questions I pose are questions that citizens grapple with in silence yet feel very strongly about. The practice may not be confined to South Africa but this is no defence, realising that we are so fond of referring to local solutions. I guess they operate differentially.

Then there is the issue of qualifications and office. Admittedly public representatives have assistance from professionals in the formulation of policy, but mediocrity reproduces itself; if it were not so the government would not be losing so many cases in the courts of law. Or is it a question of loyalty above competence in the selection of advisers, combined with the hubris of democratic representation above competence?

Memorial lectures, like revival meetings, are intended as tools in restorative justice. The lives of heroes and heroines celebrated remind us of the ideals we fought for, the message as a consciousness raiser, questioning if we still stand by the commitments to achieve what we sought to achieve. In biblical times there were prophets to caution against the impending doom. South Africa has a simple question to answer: why is the country in turmoil? The answer lies in one word: alienation. It takes an alienated citizenry to destroy, to burn even that which is intended to uplift and help them out of their lot. Viewed from one perspective, protesters are cutting their noses to spite their faces. A closer examination shows scars – a population alienated from the polity and with nothing to lose but their chains. It is only through the restoration of human dignity, through the inclusion of the masses in issues that fundamentally affect and define their lives and ensuring that they get the entitlements they deserve not as objects of official favour but as deserving citizens that have a contribution to make to the good of the country. And I would strongly caution that this can never and will never be achieved by lip service or through marketing strategies such as rallies and izimbizos redefined as consultative forums.

So what in essence is post-apartheid normativity, and why is it in tension with or threatening to social justice? As a value, social justice epitomises liberty, equality and fraternity, the core values of democracy. And what is post-apartheid normativity? Collectively it is the entrenchment of tendencies, such as conceptions of a monarchical version of leadership, where leaders consume conspicuously amid poverty and homelessness, where party allegiance determines opportunity, where the legal process remains almost the only weapon against attempts to render selective justice as the norm and where public confidence in state institutions is tenuous, that I refer to as the post-apartheid normativity.

It comprises actions and rationalisations of such actions in an attempt to create a normative social order. Hence, the citizenry has to accept that representative elites as dispensers of the public good have special entitlements which ordinary citizens have no access to and that, as taxpayers, citizens have to pay for these.

The result is a normative system that accepts disproportionality – and by extension inequities in the allocation and distribution of public goods, which form part of the national value system. Practically, this translates into inequalities in healthcare, in education, access to opportunities, different lifestyles and differentials in the quality of life.

In further concrete terms the citizenry has to pay for the upkeep of families of public representatives in the form of security requirements determined by the representatives themselves, cars, and other goods listed in the policies which never formed part of the election manifestos, and worse when we couch these in cultural terms as part of an African heritage.

Exclusion has no geographical locus, the effects are the same across humanity.

In essence all that is, is that the citizenry pays the costs for the quality of a representative democracy that we opted for. And what I have tried to demonstrate in this lecture is how wittingly or unwittingly South Africa is creating post-apartheid normativity that is greatly at variance with social justice and the common good. DM


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