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The vibrancy and governability of SA’s democracy

Opinion
Part of the president and some policymakers’ behaviour might be a function of the environment in which they operate, writes Muxe Nkondo.

The past 15 years have witnessed a reassertion of the democratic spirit in post-apartheid South Africa. The trends involve challenging the concentration of power in the Presidency in favour of collective decision making and solidarity, a heightened commitment to the virtues of public integrity, concern about state capture and criticism of factional behaviour in the ANC.

Debates on the relationship between the state and neo-liberal markets reveal intractable tension.

The theory underpinning democracy is based on the belief in the sovereignty of the people, which requires ordering social and economic relations in accordance with the will of the people.

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File photo: President Jacob Zuma

However, the democratic order is built on the principles of neo-liberal markets, which maintain that the pursuit of self-interest, as a result of competition, redounds to the advantage of all. The key to market advantage and command over resources is to stake out and improve on a competitive position.

The authority of the president and public officials depends, in large part, on the extent to which the public has confidence and trust in them. The public opinion context in which radical transformation is to take place is critical about the president and the ANC.

There is the impression that the president and officials are unable to fulfil the programme of radical transformation, they are not trying hard enough to serve the public good and the interests of white monopoly capital are placed above public interest.

The results of the attack on the public good are everywhere: the marketisation of education and public services, the denigration of professionalism and the erosion of public sanctions.

Most damaging are the emptying-out of citizenship, the manipulative populism that pervades public discourse and a slide towards a new version of apartheid corruption.

The perceived failure of the leaders to achieve radical change is taken as reason for the decline in public confidence.

Yet, it is not that simple: After a revolution, its supporters often divide and fall out among themselves, and once they capture state power, many leaders are blinded by it and indulge in egotistical fantasies.

However, this does not mean leadership is inconsequential, only that its impact is hard to assess.

What must be done? The state’s role must be expanded and decisions about the redistribution of resources must not be left to individuals.

Apart from expanding the power of the state, we must be concerned with strategies and processes of political socialisation and cultural change as manifested in various institutional settings. In all these, emphasis must be placed on collaborative decisions as the motive and motor of the radical transformation programme.

The government should forge the new political culture in the crucible of collaborative action.

Emphasis must be placed on the creative and corrective effects of immersion in decision processes. The radical transformation programme must join politics, ethics, political psychology and public administration without supposing that it can eliminate the conflicts between them.

Are radical social and economic transformation ethics possible? The greed and ambitions of some policymakers, no less of their electorates and constituents, can impede the pursuit of ethics in public life. The problem is that the role of the president and policymakers at times conflict with the generic requirements of ethics. Ethics demand an overarching imperative, but the president and policymakers are also expected to defer to electoral and constituency interests and ambitions.

Ethics call for action on public principles, but the president and policymakers might be persuaded to act less generally and autonomously. In a divided society, the tension between politics and ethics is acute.

This further tension in the electorate and constituents makes the problem of radical transformation ethics more complex. It suggests that the problem cannot be understood, let alone resolved, by considering the president and policymakers in isolation from their constituents.

How the tension should be resolved is best decided in collaborative decision processes.

In analysing the intractable factional conflicts in the ANC, the following ideas require attention: Part of the president and some policymakers’ behaviour might be a function of the environment in which they operate, with its private ambitions, sectional interests and fears.

We must begin with the description of the South African condition because a person’s conception of the environment determines their behavioural possibilities and chosen routes of action. To compound the problem, factional processes are led by powerful entrepreneurs who promote the broad mobilisation of ANC members.

The powerful faction, with access to resources, uses institutional methods of mobilisation, such as the allocation of resources and the use of the mass media.

The faction that is not supported by organisational and state structures, but committed to radical transformation, must employ innovative informal mobilisation methods, relying on volunteers who require training, depending on people’s networks on the ground and trying to raise resources.

The mobilisation of such a movement should be based on the successful persuasion of citizens’ goals and the ability to carry out their plan of action as well as the spontaneous actions driven by public outrage.

These informal actions will not be sustained unless they are encouraged by the success of decisive leadership that grants the citizens a feeling of efficacy and create hope that disciplined collaborative action could radically transform socio-economic relations.

* Nkondo is a policy analyst, member of Freedom Park Council and Council of the University of South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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