Ghana is in its Fourth Republic, created through a new constitution in 1993. France has been under a Fifth Republic since 1958. Countries establish a new republic as a drastic measure for a variety of reasons. It could be in the aftermath of a traumatic experience like war, to effect a strategic shift from an undesirable past like a period of military rule, or to rebrand the country for repositioning it to adapt to changed circumstances.
South Africa is at this crossroad.
The last few years have been traumatic. The country is in a bad shape. Everywhere, people are calling for renewal. The media is making things worse, feeding our minds with a narrative of a nation that is a bad story. Prophets of doom may have been correct after all that this South Africa project was just a pipe dream. We were once a miracle, a rainbow nation; now the path is cleared to our inevitable demise.
A crisis is a moment in history when the old can no longer hold; when something new has to happen. The old ways of doing things no longer work. The status quo is at a saturation point. The continuing persistence of things as they are only leads to decline, stagnation, degeneration, and, eventually, to implosion and total collapse. Its ideological manifestation is a state of confusion, panic, anxiety, uncertainty, demoralisation, and also a moment for zealots and populists to show off their opportunism.
Its other face is a crisis in diversity management demonstrated by phenomena such as the rise of racial nationalism and xenophobia.
Such a moment is a call for leadership, and tends to produce three types of leadership response: the Captain of the Ship, the Ego, and Madiba’s Mojo.
The Captain of the Ship leads with bravery, but his only success can be in making sure that the ship remains on course, it doesn’t sink. God willing, he’ll get us safely to the shore! The Ego will use the moment for a self-serving purpose, usually to achieve his leadership ambition, but without a cause, purpose, conviction, or a vision, except for personal gain. Consumed by his ambition, the Ego will inadvertently chaperone the crisis to further decline and collapse, to our death foretold.
The Madiba’s Mojo – “it always seems impossible until it’s done” – is a leader who’ll achieve the impossible. These are the leaders who invented planes when most of us thought it was impossible for humans to fly. They are the undaunted, those who are unfazed by any challenge, any change; they don’t fear the unknown; they are curious, creative, innovative, persistent; they never stop trying something new, something different. They are our goal-getters, our trailblazers, our high achievers; and they are at their best in moments of crisis.
South Africa exhibits these features of a crisis. Time for change has come; this change is inevitable. But we must manage it to our advantage, otherwise our country will collapse under the heavy weight of uncontrollable forces of history.
We must be proactive to seize this moment presented to us by history. We must establish a Second Republic to replace the compromise, post-apartheid dispensation we created in 1994. Our approach should not be piecemeal – about land, the judiciary, or this and that. Instead, we should be bold and decisive and overhaul the entire dispensation to align it with our times.
The time for the Second Republic is now!
History is the best teacher. Its one lesson is that countries, in the course of their historical development, will experience many changes, but that there will be that one, most important change that will have the most transformative and long-term impact on the nation. Some countries never look back after this moment, and use its impact positively, to take the nation to greater heights. Other countries, sadly, fail to emerge from this transformative moment, to put it to good use, but instead undergo a long period of decline afterwards, to the point of degeneration and infinite stagnation.
History shows that a country needs at least a generation, about 30 years, to undergo a significant, transformative shift. China took 40 years. In South Africa, we are still under the 30 years since our 1994 epoch-making moment. We spent much of this period on the right path, but then started moving off course somewhere midstream. Unceasing load shedding, unattended potholes that are growing in number and size, train stations that are stripped, and a national airline carrier that is grounded for two years, are all signs of a country in decline.
If we continue on this trend consistently for the next 20 years, history will fossilise us into a condition of a permanent state of self-destruction. That is how some countries, many of them with a promising future at the beginning like us, failed to take off and are perpetually stuck at the bottom, while others reached for the skies.
A number of domestic factors account for this. The most common is infinite regime instability due to frequent, disruptive, unconstitutional changes of government, lasting for decades without a break.
Equally important is the toxic and chaotic political environment that would consume a country for years due to incessant infighting among the elites, making national cohesion impossible, and engendering hopelessness in the national psyche. Consequently, this country would fail to build proper and reliable institutions; its governance orientation being too arbitrary, disorganised, personality driven, and dominated by rampant corruption.
Therefore, South Africa has to find its way back to the right course and stick to it uninterruptedly for at least the next 30 years. We need a sustained, protracted, positive trajectory for decades to come. For this to happen, we must engender political peace among our elites, within and across the political spectrum. We must also build reliable and stable public sector institutions; foster an open and competitive political environment that encourages innovation; and deploy strategic transformative interventions in society, while ensuring that even if political regimes change, the broad thrust, trajectory and direction of the country remains the same.
Frequent changes to the line of march, one zigzag after another, will not lead to desired results. If we don’t act, arrest and reverse this decline trend now, we will find ourselves 100 years later, still moving in circles, still squabbling over who is the best singer of Dubul’ ibhunu (Shoot the Boer), while a much smaller country, a neighbour perhaps, with less resources, would have used the 100 years to rise up the development rank and even travel to the moon and back.
The Second Republic is our way out of this crisis. There are things we inherited from 1994 that we no longer need, like redundancies in our Cabinet structure that were created out of the Codesa process as a compromise to accommodate departing elements of the apartheid regime. Our provinces are another compromise whose expiry date has long passed. They were our last big effort to win over the erstwhile proponents of federalism who did not want to see a dominant ANC in charge of a unitary state.
Proportional representation made sense in 1994 for a country that was divided to the core. It was successful as a political tool to ensure that no important political voice in the country was left out as we set out to construct a post-apartheid Parliament. But one flip side to this good system is that it puts political parties above the people and gives us leaders none of us elected directly. Party bosses are in charge, not the people. Public representatives are accountable to the party, not to the people.
The Second Republic will be an antithesis to this system. People’s power must be its central pillar. It should stand on a reformed electoral system of public representatives who are directly elected, including the president.
With provinces gone and merged into our current local government, we could explore a new three-tier state system that has street committees at community level as a third tier. We will need a strong Parliament, with portfolio committee chairs ranking at the level of ministers to give this body more teeth in its role in holding the executive accountable. Through its integrated programmes nationwide and across the three tiers of the state, the School of Government will ensure continuity in the trajectory the country is following despite changes in government. Our civil service will be professionalised and merit-based.
The Second Republic should not be confused with the erstwhile “Second Transition” resolution of the ANC’s Mangaung national conference which was largely about accelerating the socioeconomic transformation of South Africa. The Second Republic, for its part, is about revisiting the South Africa project we initiated in 1994 based on lessons learnt over the last 28 years, to make a strategic break with what no longer works, and set the country on a fundamentally new course.
We will need a new constitution that can be validated through a national referendum, and this goal can be achieved within two years. One option is to find a constitutional formula to extend the term of the current Parliament by two years, or give this task as an assignment to the next administration after the 2024 national elections.
Once in place, the Second Republic will be a game changer. It will give us back the optimism we have lost, resuscitate project South Africa, and restore the national, unifying focus we had in 1994. It will displace the current, toxic national narrative that is dominated by our justified outcry against corruption and will disorientate political factions and render them irrelevant. Our youth will not be as despondent as they are today as this new dispensation will be constructed in their image.
An African proverb puts this better: “At that particular time a mad person gives you something, take it immediately before he changes his mind.”
History is this mad person. It is presenting us with an opportunity we can only miss at our own peril. DM