Defend Truth


Defining Moment: South Africa can be the laboratory of a better world order


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Welcome to Dante’s Inferno – the world of avarice, greed, lust for material gain and root of all evil in the world. An epoch of the boastful, the hoarders of material possessions and those who extravagantly display wealth and power and use it to bully all things sacred in the world.

Donald Trump’s victory in the US Elections represents a resounding rejection of the Establishment and the status quo of neoliberalism that has deepened class divisions and concentrated power in the hands of the top one percent. One that has largely undermined the Nation State and its sovereignty and given absolute power to economic elites who run finance capital, the banking system, and who use institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and rating agencies to govern the world.

Donald Trump, the antithesis of tolerance and humility, is now the most powerful man on the planet. In the absence of an ethical political leadership, a progressive narrative and vibrant social movements built from below and beyond borders, people marginalised by the status quo voted for the most racist, homophobic, chauvinistic alternative. Literally they will throw the baby out with the bath water in their rejection of the rule of the elites.

Across the world, “big men” are triumphantly charging into the highest offices – from India to Manila, from Finland to Melbourne and London, they are on a triumphant march. And not to forget our local version of authoritarism in SA, Egypt, Ethiopia and now raising the ugly spectre of civil war in Mozambique and the DRC.

The rise of right-wing populism that governed the world prior to the rise of fascism in the 1930s rears its violent head again. And these forces glorify war. Militarism is on the rise.

What can we expect from a Trump Presidency?

He will use his office and control over the Congress and Senate to drive an old economic trajectory based on fossil fuels, pipelines carrying dirty oil from tar-sands and fracking, removing subsidies from the solar industry and killing the Paris Deal on climate change with its commitment to put a price on carbon.

We in Africa have no choice but to fear this Presidency. We are a continent most effected by climate change. Already wars are starting over water, grazing land and food security. President-elect Donald Trump, a deniallist of global warming, has said already that he thinks climate change was a conspiracy of the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive.

On the human rights front, expect a frontal onslaught on any initiatives to build a more tolerant world that embraces social and economic inclusion and seeks peaceful negotiations to solve the differences between nations. He will advance a testosterone-filled agenda that will sweep aside the hard-won rights of women, LGBT advances and a greater tolerance of our religious, cultural and language diversity. And his xenophobic attacks on Muslims are going to deepen the extremism and push more recruits into the hands of religious zealots on all sides.

The results confirm that we face a world where political parties and even our nation states are perceived or actually captured by a rent-seeking elite – existing democratic institutions have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Trust has collapsed not just in our governments but in the very content of the democracy and constitutions we have designed to protect it.

Our planet faces a defining moment. There are choices to make:

  • A world of war and conflict where the language of hate dominates; one which already faces a humanitarian crisis with more refugees than ever since WW2 with over 60-million people living in refugee camps where the average stay is now 17 years; a world where our human greed has brought us to a precipice of an ecological disaster that threatens the very survival of not just the human species but all life on Mother Earth.
  • Or a world built on justice. Economic justice. Climate justice. Gender justice. Land justice. Human justice.

So what does it mean for us in South Africa?

Every storm cloud has a silver lining. This is clear message to all of us. Use the crisis as an opportunity to reflect and rethink what we have done in the past. I sense this is the beginning of a great shift in global consciousness. No one can be a bystander any longer. Everyone has to chose a side. We should go back to the drawing board and not hesitate to throw out what is not working. There are no shortcuts. Democracy is not about organising stunts or digital petitions and seeing how many likes we have on this Facebook page or clever tweets on Twitter.

  • It’s about hard, painstaking work in our communities to build power from below, co-create the vision and tools to win battles around the “bread and butter” issues of water, land, food, quality free education and health.
  • It’s about making governance work at local level so that our people can have confidence and the knowledge of the leadership choices they make at the ballot box.
  • It’s about rebuilding democracy, one brick at a time.

That’s what we did in the past. That’s the job to be done today. Otherwise the vacuum in the world will be filled by the charismatic leader who will make many promises but at the end merely replace one set of elites with another.

If we don’t address boldly the deep divisions in our country where obscene privilege and wealth sit starkly alongside abject poverty, joblessness and hunger, then the future will be chaos. That’s why we need to fix up the broken political system in a way that doesn’t just benefit the elites in our land.

It means real negotiations to complete the peaceful political transition we started in 1994. The issues of economic freedom, land dispossession and income inequality are squarely on our agenda. There can never be reconciliation without redistribution. We need to build a new social consensus that extends equality, human dignity and justice to all 55-million citizens.

The first of these challenges, the education crisis, presents us all with the opportunity to unite around a legitimate demand for free, quality decolonised education from the Early Childhood Development to tertiary level.

Let us boldly grasp this opportunity, seize the moment and build unity, win the peace and institute a mandated process of negotiation involving students, the government, parents, academics, labour and broad civil society in a National Education Forum.

We still have the time to rebuilt trust and legitimacy of our institutions in our country. I have learnt that the shaping of that future we want requires more than changing the system. It needs to change the human being – and that starts with shifting our individual consciousness.

We can be the laboratory of the world in managing diversity and a transition to economic justice. But time is running out. DM


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