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South Africa needs a new social compact – and ethical politicians and civil society to implement it

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Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was raised by his determined maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate type), with exposure in the public sector, management consulting, advisory and private sector. The focus of his work is about enabling equity, justice and leveraging public policy effectively. He had a stint in the South African party-political environment and found the experience a deeply educational one.

South Africa continues to be poorly served by our electoral system and an inability to hold our representatives personally accountable and responsible. Public representatives often become mere apparatchiks of their respective political party with very little reason to properly serve their constituents.

The social compact is referenced in many documents, dialogues, speeches and conduct by the administration of Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa. It has been an ideal spoken of throughout the government of Ramaphosa, and often it has been used as the crutch by which our efforts to remedy the ills in South Africa have been hitched on.

However, we must acknowledge that the Ramaphosa administration has not always been able to model the hard work of confronting our structural and societal issues. Covid-19 continues to batter South Africans at large, who are suffering under the weight of distress, emotional abuse, physical abuse and harm (sometimes at the hands of overzealous police officers) and the weight of hunger, hopelessness and gender-based violence. 

The approach by our elected representatives across all spheres of government has been lacking, and we have often found ourselves alone in our struggles as the country is pushed further into unemployment, inequality and poverty.

South Africa, under the leadership of our elected representatives, has been unable to address those structural issues cemented by a lost decade under the previous administration of Jacob Zuma, enabled by his Cabinet, the African National Congress (and in particular its National Executive Committee and National Working Committee) and a submissive Parliament unable to hold the executive accountable.

Corruption and malfeasance continues in towns, cities and provinces across the country, and have been most recently highlighted in the corruption and grand theft perpetuated during the Covid-19 relief and procurement programme. 

The threat of further crimes due to the lack of accountability hangs like a dark cloud over the vaccine procurement and implementation plan that so desperately needs to be instituted – crimes that are driven by greed, self-interest and corruption, with the consequences that South Africans will be made poorer and sicker.

The efforts by the Ramaphosa administration and the budgetary work undertaken by finance minister Tito Mboweni and National Treasury have failed to shift South Africa towards a more equitable and fair society and economy. This should give South Africans pause about the type of service public representatives are rendering to the republic, and how our democracy functions, or rather, malfunctions.

The ongoing lockdowns have highlighted how corruption and malfeasance have permeated the party-political environment; an environment that is rooted in secrecy and dysfunction. So much so that Ramaphosa continues fending off allegations of how the CR17 campaign raised funds, amid attempts to convince the ANC’s integrity commission that there was nothing untoward and that the millions raised and spent did not adversely impact the public service. 

The mechanics of party politics is that it is fed and enabled by money, special interests and long delays by Ramaphosa to implement party-political funding legislation and regulation.

The impact of Covid-19 has forced political parties to rethink how they engage the electorate, and how they convene internally in preparing policies, electing leaders and providing leadership to the country. 

Our political parties may have found a reasonable means to elect internal leaders, prepare policy positions or to run internal election processes, but they have failed to fully embrace the work of supporting a shift in our approach during these difficult times.

The simple solution of postponing elections and thereby extending the terms of office for public representatives is simply unacceptable. South Africans, especially now, have to hold their politicians and elected representatives accountable, and where appropriate seek the means to vote for alternative voices and positions.

The Independent Electoral Commission needs to reflect more clearly on its mandate by expanding its voter education campaign and supporting the work of civil society organisations in supporting and expanding the electoral voice of South Africans. 

The dynamics and logistical planning around how elections are conducted in South Africa have long required an overhaul to ensure greater participation and improve the efficacy of voting.

Covid-19 must spur on the IEC to consider how elections can be conducted across the country by leveraging hybrid mechanisms for casting votes and improving facilities across the vast number of voting stations.

Even more critical is the reminder that South Africa continues to be poorly served by our electoral system, and the inability of South Africans to hold their representatives personally accountable and responsible.

Public representatives often become mere apparatchiks of their respective political party – serving party bosses and special interests – with very little reason to properly serve their constituents. It becomes almost second nature in this broken electoral system to simply ignore voters and constituents until you are compelled to hand out T-shirts, food parcels and solicit their vote.

South Africa continues to wrestle with the need for new political voices, new policies and a completely different approach to confront the structural and financial realities of the country. 

New entrants within existing political parties remain faced with an uphill battle, and new political party entrants must confront the challenge to establish sufficient infrastructure, interest, support and financial muscle to create an alternative for South Africans.

The past few years have highlighted the desperate need for new entrants – free of past contamination and dogma – to serve the country, and this will need to be the work that is adopted across a broad spectrum of society. 

Only then will South Africa create real alternatives to the dominant voices that have often led us astray and in many respects have been unable to confront the pressing issues facing the country.

The work of establishing alternative voices and encouraging ethical and service-orientated South Africans to serve will not in itself be the solution to all our ills, but it will require and force our body politic to adapt, change and recommit itself to social justice, empowerment and enabling a country that is indeed a more equal and fair society with a more resilient economy. DM

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  • Just how do +- 50 million SA citizens hold our various leaders accountable? The only mechanism seems to be elections. This does not seem to work as there are few alternatives for the masses. so the existing corrupt and inept politicians are re-elected whilst everyone groans and moans and SA spirals downwards to another African Dysfunctional state. Would a class action to the con court by say 20 million SA citizens be at all possible? Then the corrupt officials can be forced to step aside until they get to jail.

  • I agree we lack leadership who have ethics. One of the worst examples is President Ramaphosa. The sordid story of how his company Shavanduka Resources acquired its shares in Lonmin’s BEE vehicle Incwala Resources, which saw him get a seat on the Lonmin Board, needs full airing which I can give it. Then there is the directly related loan of R2.5 Billion, now with interest about 4 Billion, it borrowed in cash from Lonmin to fund the purchase and then walked away from the loan, and was allowed to do so. All well documented. Add to this that while he was Deputy President the DME allowed Lonmin to not comply with its obligations in terms of the Social and Labour Plans for many years. President Ramaphosa must be brought to book. At very least he must repay the now R4 billion to the Community so badly prejudiced by his conduct. But I suppose this will be swept under the carpet and he will be allowed to preside over more and more incompetence and corruption which is destroying this country. Come on Daily Maverick join me in exposing him.

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