Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 25 January 2019

South African renewal can only come about through concrete actions

In these times of reflection and the pursuit of the truth, it will be critical for South Africans to consider what blueprint or road map is required in order to arrest the decline, begin the renewal and to renew faith and trust in government.

Since 14 February 2018, South Africans have again been talking about social cohesion and South Africa’s social compact. This has not happened accidentally but has its origins in the termination of the Zuma administration after a protracted negotiation process with the former president.

The wasted years under Jacob Zuma were, by design, focused on extracting billions from the public purse at the expense of millions of South Africans. It was not accidental that people were pushed further into poverty as the business of the state during this period was to erode public institutions, reduce confidence in the ability of government to serve its people, to encourage the erosion of social cohesion and to create darkness and fear. The true costs of these wasted years will not be accounted for in the Zondo Commission or any parliamentary reports.

The National Development Plan (NDP) was shaped and crafted during this lost decade, and its lack of implementation since its adoption on 12 September 2012 is not surprising, given the self-interested agenda of the previous administration.

In these times of reflection and the pursuit of the truth, it will be critical for South Africans to consider what blueprint or roadmap is required in order to arrest the decline, begin the renewal and to renew faith and trust by the people in their government.

The intention of the NDP, as set out in its foreword, “is a plan for the country to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030 through uniting South Africans, unleashing the energies of its citizens, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capability of the state and leaders working together to solve complex problems”.

Critically, South Africans must consider the state of social cohesion and the social compact after 2,238 days, or more than six years, since the NDP was adopted. This introspection is critical, especially as South Africa grapples with the consequences of the past decade and the upcoming national and provincial elections, which provide the electorate with an opportunity to speak truth to power, and to demand real commitment to confronting the breakdown in public trust, entrenched unemployment, structural challenges to the economy, worsening inequality and staggering levels of poverty.

Exclusion has been a hallmark of the lost decade of Zuma. However, exclusion had been a feature of South Africa before then, just as malfeasance and corruption existed too, as highlighted in the ongoing testimony of Angelo Agrizzi at the Zondo Commission.

The State Capture project (demonstrated through corruption, malfeasance, graft and related criminal activity) is but the executive arm of a particular type of exclusion. The exclusion that has robbed millions from proper and dignified service delivery — the delivery of services that extend from the social grant system to proper health care and sanitation, adequate housing, and safety and security.

This exclusion has not simply eroded our public institutions, but also in some instances collapsed these bodies, which again impacts on the vulnerable and poor. The structure, fractured as it is, allows a certain grouping to opt out from this erosion and collapse by privately sourcing schooling, security, health care, accommodation and housing.

The exclusion can be illustrated in a variety of ways, and that exclusion is pervasive, structural, entrenched and inhumane. In the first quarter of 2018, a dire picture of the health of South Africa’s working population was reaffirmed, when Stats SA revealed that only 16.4 million South Africans were employed — the official unemployment number was six million. More than 15.3 million South Africans were broadly categorised as “not economically active” (which included more than 2.8 million classified as “discouraged work seekers”).

There has been ongoing talk about the ticking time-bomb of unemployment, and more specifically youth unemployment, which should provide South Africa with a unique opportunity to rebuild and recommit to social cohesion, but instead it acts as a critical issue that could demonstrate the true costs of the lost Zuma years and the abyss that we have muddled towards.

Statistics South Africa is unequivocal when its says “the unemployment rate among young people aged 15–34 was 38.2%, implying that more than one in every three young people in the labour force did not have a job in the first quarter of 2018”.

If we ever truly commit to a renewal in the form of improved social cohesion, a shared vision and responsibility in the form of a strong social compact as well as strengthened our public institutions and a restored public trust and faith, then South Africa must begin to engage in the difficult conversations required to elicit clearly what our future social compact should look like.

If we fail to do so we will continue to have entrenched poverty, inequality and unemployment, “concentrated among the youth as they account for 63.5% of the total number of unemployed persons”, which we can ill afford.

Exclusion can be witnessed at every level of our society, and even worse in South Africa’s pool of voters among which more than 10 million South Africans eligible to vote have not yet registered to do so (with only about 26 million South Africans on the voters roll).

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) will have to be far more proactive in registering more voters and — more important — engaging in civic education to encourage South Africans to robustly exercise their rights and responsibilities.

The IEC has estimated that of the 10 million unregistered voters, almost 6.5 million (almost two-thirds) are between the ages of 18 and 30, which further creates an environment where a silent-bloc remains outside the system. This group of young voters is silenced in part by its own choices, a lacklustre approach to civic education, political parties that don’t resonate with voters and erosion of belief and faith in the system.

South Africa is approaching another milestone where voters will exercise their vote. However, this act will not be isolated but informed by the unfolding story from the past 25 years.

Almost a year from the 2018 State of the Nation Address, we will need to consider whether and how South Africa will meet the need to “to work together to find jobs for our youth; to build factories and roads, houses and clinics; to prepare our children for a world of change and progress; to build cities and towns where families may be safe, productive and content”.

The commitment to a social compact in order to renew our republic, and the work required to do so, requires robust conversations with a clear idea about how all the social actors must come together to displace exclusion. The social compact will not simply be delivered in Parliament, at the Union Buildings, or in conferences and meetings, but rather by being demonstrated through concrete actions. DM

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