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Civil Society Must Participate in the Renewal of South Africa

Ben Turok is the director of the Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA) and a former ANC MP. See his Wikipedia profile.

Civil society must play a more proactive and assertive role in realising the promises of liberation in this country.

Most civil society organisations in South Africa experienced extreme frustration under the Zuma administration. The climate of intolerance and dishonesty in the state institutions discouraged formal public activity, leaving militant and disrupting protest as the only recourse at times.

With the victory of Cyril Ramaphosa over Jacob Zuma at the ANC national conference in December 2017, there was a huge national sigh of relief and high hopes that a new era of integrity had arrived. Unfortunately, we did not fully appreciate that prospects of Ramaphosa introducing major reforms were severely constrained given the power struggle within the ANC. This seems to explain why there is an apparent slowing down on the initial bold steps of renewal in the state system.

However, society seems to have found new strength and small NGOs and social movements are making important victories against Zuma-era criminality. The courts are open to these initiatives and this all will help to create a new confidence that the wickedness of the last decade may yet be overcome.

There is an urgent need for an exchange of views on how citizens can participate in the renewal of our country.

There is little scope for public complacency given the depth of our political and economic crisis. The ruling party seems to be caught up in numerous internal disputes and is now focused on creating some form of unity to fight the coming national elections. There even seems to be some residual influence by pro-Zuma factions which are not even embarrassed by the findings of the courts. They even loathe accepting the finding that important sectors of the state apparatus were made dysfunctional in the financial interests of the Gupta and Zuma families. How anyone can still defend these people in the face of the findings of the Constitutional Court is beyond comprehension.

Ramaphosa has largely avoided direct comment on all this, probably to avoid confrontations within the top leadership of the ANC. His emphasis has been on rebuilding state institutions to overcome the deep infestation of corruption.

However, that our social fabric is deeply stressed and the economy is in serious trouble is only too evident. So we, as the broader public and civil society, cannot hold back on the important measures needed to take us to a more orderly and fair society.

Civil society has a particular role to play, not only in defence of civil liberties, but also in debating concrete political, economic and social alternatives to our dysfunctional legacy of apartheid and colonialism. We have perhaps been too reticent as the broader public on advancing these vital issues which has thereby allowed other less principled people to dominate the political scene. Civil society must play a more proactive and assertive role in realising the promises of liberation in this country.

We have heard talk of a “new dawn”, but that has not been followed up by a consensual strategy on just how this will be achieved. Without clarity on the way forward, South Africans will continue to suffer. Conflicting economic and political policies will not build the stability and confidence needed to take the country forward. Civil society can play a role in bringing the necessary clarity to advance. DM

Ben Turok is director of the Institute for African Alternatives, which will be hosting a conversation at 6pm at Community House, 41 Salt River Rd, Cape Town, on Thursday, 30 August, 2018. Former public protector Thuli Madonsela will lead a “town hall talk” engaging the audience and participants in an exchange on how best to secure the participation of civil society in the country’s renewal efforts. Other speakers include Former President Kgalema Motlanthe and former ANC MP Pallo Jordan.


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