Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 15 February 2019

Constitutional checkmate: Chess pieces are still stacked against moving forward

South Africa can be a truly frustrating place to live. We are confronted each day with the stark consequences of a lost decade, but also the pitfalls and failures of the past 25 years. Our constitutional democracy has not been implemented seamlessly, and even if it was then we would today be confronted by the malfeasance, greed, corruption and criminality that has been on display by our elected officials.

South Africans have inherited a fractured government, collapsing infrastructure, a massive skills shortage and brain drain, a lack of trust, and growing disbelief at the real consequences of the malfeasance and State Capture. That the recent load shedding schedule – a phrase itself concocted by a crack team at Eskom and its highly-paid multinational consultants at the time – was re-introduced and re-loaded this week in the wake of failing generators is a friendly reminder about how dysfunctional our country has become.

This dysfunction is not simply a symptom of the past decade but rather it has become embedded in the very fabric of our society. In these troubled times, exacerbated by the re-introduction of load shedding, it is difficult to hold on to hope. Yet, it is important to remember that South Africa is today a very different place than it was. A year ago, we were relieved, grateful but at the same time, we were exhausted to see the back of Jacob Zuma.

However, South Africa has not rid itself of the State Capture-apparatchiks, but instead, we are going through a protracted process to uncover the truth. We are seized with the burden of having to interrogate the conduct, misdeeds and arrangements that had consumed governance and replaced that with violent and all-consuming self-interest and greed. The Republic’s President is not himself burdened with the inability to muster his own thoughts and words, or necessarily being enamoured with the machinery of State Capture, which simply means that he is able to freely address Parliament on the state of our nation, but there is a lot more required from the Republic’s first citizen in the days, weeks and months ahead.

The danger of this different place is that the chess pieces are still stacked against us – the people. We still know very little about how our politicians secure their funding and power and more importantly who is exerting power over our democracy due to the nature of our party-political structure. The power of our political parties has not yet diminished or been reined in despite President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa signing the Political Party Funding Bill, which still does not have an operational date. The South African electoral system is still weighed against the people of South Africa. The process of electoral reform should be at the heart of how we reimagine South Africa – it should be the driving force whereby renewal is achieved.

It is difficult in these times of darkness, in part induced by the rolling blackouts courtesy of a hollowed-out and dysfunctional Eskom, to think about how we begin to realign those chess pieces, but even more critical – how South Africans begin to reshape the game in their favour. We have for too long ignored the immense power wielded by the party-political structure. A structure that has morphed into a monstrous and callous execution of power, which has infiltrated every sphere of government and in many instances crippled our democratic institutions. The battle lines may be drawn, but one thing we must be assured of is that the Shadow State-apparatchiks must all be uncovered, prosecuted and sentenced.

South Africans are burdened with a crisis – a crisis of trust, a crisis of a generation, a crisis of apathy and exclusion, a crisis to confront the Shadow State structure and critically a crisis that requires a response rooted in accountability and participation. This crisis will not be resolved overnight, but rather this crisis is a unique opportunity for South Africans to re-evaluate their country and its leadership. An opportunity that may be exercised at the ballot box on Wednesday, 8 May, but an opportunity that must be taken advantage of by the people in actions beyond the voting booth. Our democracy was not lost at the ballot box, but rather it was chipped away and intentionally eroded by criminals masquerading as public servants.

Our democratic resilience must be articulated not simply through the ballot box, but how we participate and engage in that democracy. The crisis before us, alarming as it may be, must be used as an opportunity to repurpose our structural framework. It is an opportunity to make further and bold strides in fulfilling the mandate articulated in our Constitution, and particularly on issues of reducing the power of our party-political system and restore power to the people of South Africa. We have not simply encountered deviants, but rather we have saboteurs inside that not only ignored the rule of law but purposefully dismantled that framework and compromised our future.

The issues that trouble Eskom are not easily solvable, and those issues are but a microcosm of the issues facing the Republic of South Africa, and what is worse still is that Eskom poses a serious financial and strategic risk to the viability and independence of our Republic and its attempt at renewal and hope. Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s Public Enterprises Minister, may have scope to bring in external support in order to uncover the reasons for the re-introduction of load shedding, which is underpinned by financial, structural, organisational and financial problems. The hope is that this process will uncover the full extent of the failures within Eskom, but that autopsy will not immediately provide South Africa with neat solutions.

South Africa is going through its own dissection except we don’t have the luxury of being able to bring in external engineers and auditors to provide us with the roadmap to our revival. South Africans must be reminded in this time of crisis that we have a unique opportunity to reshape our society. The social compact must be bent towards a moral arc that confronts structural inequality, poverty and restores power to the people by a long-overdue electoral reform, which not only shows us who owns our politicians but restores power to the people.

The work ahead for South Africa, like the morass of Eskom, will not be solved at the eleventh hour, but rather it will require South Africans to invest in civic organisations, civil society, a free and robust media, the activism of youth, the voice of communities and critically to start engaging actively in their democracy. DM


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