Building a non-racial South Africa with public services for all

Lindiwe Mazibuko, Co-founder and Executive Director of Apolitical Academy.

Lindiwe Mazibuko, Co-founder and Executive Director of Apolitical Academy.

Published Mar 21, 2020


In the South African context, race, class and economic outcomes align as a consequence of the system of apartheid, therefore any conversation that centres around building an inclusive society automatically leans on the ideal of non-racialism. 

Communities on the receiving end of poor public services are by and large black and poor; and communities that have the choice to opt-out of poor healthcare, security, education and other key services are mostly white and well-off. 

If we are, indeed, to build inclusive public services and a non-racial country, we need to deal with the structural barriers, seen and unseen, which still stubbornly sit with us almost three decades in our constitutional democracy.

It is well-documented that South Africa is and has been for a long time the most unequal country in the world, where, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 68% of income is held by the top 20% of the population, and frighteningly the bottom 40% of the population hold a meagre 7% of income.

As we mark Anti-Racism Week 2020, the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA) calls on all of us to reflect on some of the structural barriers which feed this cycle of inequality. Per the IMF, “Inequality manifests itself through a skewed income distribution, unequal access to opportunities, and regional disparities.”

If there aren’t deliberate programmes to undo apartheid’s structural legacies, then any campaign to unite South Africa’s people behind shared values and principles that aren’t likewise underpinned by proper investment in public infrastructure and the quality of the services provided by the state is ultimately a fool’s gambit.

We need to reaffirm ourselves to the preamble to our Constitution, that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”. The preamble goes on further to say that we, the citizenry, and more directly those in the public service, must work to “Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person”. But we still have a long and difficult road to travel before we reach the destination the drafters of our Constitution envisaged for our country.  And in this journey, we all have a role to play. This call is also outlined by the Anti-Racism Network South Africa under the slogan, Unite Against Racism. The call to action invites members of society, businesses and religious bodies among others to join forces in tackling the scourge of racism.

At the Apolitical Academy, we are determined to ensure that those in the public service and those who aspire to leadership roles in the public sector - whether as politicians or public officials - are the brightest and best.

Like many South Africans who have had the privilege to serve in public leadership, I am a firm advocate of building a “capable state”. But this cannot just be a political slogan, it requires the development of programmes to support the goal, and meticulous targets to measure it. 

Through a series of strategic partnerships and engagements with governments, political organisations and higher education institutions around the world. 

More excellence in the public service will weed out mediocrity and inefficiency and change the image of politics and government - putting paid to the notions of government as a place for the ineffectual and corrupt, and making a career in the public service attractive to the best individuals in our society, across race, class and gender.

We will only knock down the structural barriers to racial equality and build an inclusive society when the public service is staffed by the best and brightest, who understand and execute their constitutional mandate with efficiency and pride. It is our civic duty to do what we can to make politics and government people-centred and beautiful.

* Lindiwe Mazibuko is the co-founder and executive director of the Apolitical Foundation. She is also a patron of the Anti-Racism Week 2020. Anti-Racism Week is observed from March 14-21 annually and is an initiative by the Anti-Racism Network South Africa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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