BREAKDOWN: A policeman fires at protesting miners at Marikana on August 16. The columnist says the massacre could have been prevented, and that Marikana has overtaken Mangaung in setting the terms for leadership. Picture: Reuters

In an effort to try to make sense of what is happening in our country, I recently recalled my boyish fascination with In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat and works by Nobel laureate Dr Ilya Prigogine for some consolation.

With Schrödinger’s cat paradox, a cat is placed in a sealed box with a bottle of cyanide, a radioactive source and a detector of radioactive particles. If the monitor detects radioactivity, the cyanide bottle breaks and the cat lives. If not, the cat dies. The probability is 50-50 and the experimenter cannot know if the cat lives or dies until the box is opened.

For his part, Prigogine observes: “We know now that societies are immensely complex systems involving a potentially enormous number of bifurcations exemplified by the variety of cultures that have evolved in the relatively short span of human history. We know that such systems are highly sensitive to fluctuations. This leads both to hope and a threat: hope, since even small fluctuations may grow and change the overall structure. As a result, individual activity is not doomed to insignificance. On the other hand, this is also a threat, since in our universe the security of stable, permanent rules seem gone forever. We are living in a dangerous and uncertain world that inspires no blind confidence, but only a feeling of qualified hope.”

Affirming Heisenberg’s law of uncertainty, Prigogine opined: “Nothing in the description of the experimental set-up permits the observer to assign beforehand the state that will be chosen; only chance will decide.” The implications of such theoretical precepts are far reaching.

“Firstly, bifurcations tend to be irreversible processes with a unique character of symmetry breaking, loss of memory and a breakdown of trajectories. The changing demographics due to Aids and a life expectancy of 50 years explain the greater part of the story.

“Secondly, organisations operate in a pluralistic society where forces may disappear, appear or others reappear and metamorphose in stronger forms.”

To say South Africa is unstable and the ANC at a bifurcation point is to call in new perspectives and new ways of relating. For far too long we have allowed governance by impunity and the desecration of social capital through sacrificing the needs of workers and communities on the altars of BEE self-enrichment of a few.

Not only is it exploding, but it has emboldened splits and the rise of a new left that is nonetheless being counterbalanced by a resurgent black middle class.

The bifurcation tree of correlations breaking suggests the emergence of “a new normal”. To the extent that probability is not an antithesis of certainty, it forces a harmonisation of contrasting views.

The big question is whether the ANC will overcome its obsession with power and allow for the centre to hold or whether a split is inevitable and desirable.

“If you are a leader, you should come on time, not at a later stage… you cannot address us without seeing you,” was the cry from one of the Lonmin workers from Mozambique on the afternoon of August 15. That cry should reverberate throughout.

We heard recently that National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana refused to address workers on August 15, from marathon sessions at an SAfm interview in the morning to an afternoon meeting with Lonmin management, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and NUM chaired by Captain Mpembe on August 15.

The very strong possibility of an ambush on NUM or the NUM president could have been foiled by strategic police protection, but they were in too deep – if Lonmin and NUM aren’t part of the deal, then we go ahead. The massacre was an option on August 15.

The fact that Marikana happened after the NUM elections and in the same year as Mangaung suggests a revulsion against “re-elected leadership” in the thick of the night.

Will the ANC realise, perhaps even look into the entanglement that Marikana killings happened because workers’ issues were neglected by a pro-Zuma leadership faction within NUM with an obsession to fix the outcome of Mangaung?

Some in the ANC acknowledge that from their time as union officials it would not be possible for shop steward councils to collapse under their watch unless they lost focus and got involved in factional schemes.

To be sure, Marikana has broken the old correlations and overtaken Mangaung in setting the terms for leadership.

ANC leaders should attend commission hearings for a painful re-conceptualisation of what leadership entails – that leadership should be bottom up, not top-down arrogance.

Correspondingly, South Africans have an ethical responsibility in the reinvention of the country.

This entails building a strong sense of nationhood based on reciprocity for socio-economic development through advocacy, resource nationalism and ESG investing by pension funds.

Resource nationalism, not nationalisation, built us Iscor, Sasol and Royal Bafokeng. We need to paraphrase those and MIDP with the Mining Charter, and establish how well we can move forward.

The ANC should realise that complex structures feed on the energy from their environment for renewal. Isolation from their environment results in disenchantment, decay and death.

Prigogine observes: “The interaction of a system with the outside world, its embedding in non-equilibrium conditions, may become in this way the starting point for the formation of new dynamic states of matter – dissipative structures. During the transportation of heat, entropy production increases, leading highly ordered complex structures. Rather than evolving towards disorder (equilibrium), the process creates highly ordered convection cells. Thus, we have in this perspective the constant generation of ‘new types’ and ‘new ideas’ that may be incorporated into the structure of the system, causing its continual evolution.

“… that a system must be adaptive, but that too much and too precise a local fitting may freeze a system in transient optimality with insufficient capacity for future change. Too much chaos may prove fatal by excessive and unpredictable fluctuation, both in external environments and internal states. Adaptation at the edge of chaos balances both desiderata of current functionality and potential for future change, or evolvability.”

One is not too sure if the ANC is fully aware of the dynamics at play, of honour and sanctity of public office – the call to serve South Africa instead of the organisation.

Will the cyanide bottle break in Mangaung’s radioactive setting? Will the delegates accept that a clash of doctrines is an opportunity for the centre hold – not “ill-discipline” of sectional interests to be crushed? One thing is clear: old correlations have broken down and in a search for social justice South Africans will decide on a new order out of chaos.

l Donald T Molema is an actuarial consultant to pension funds and medical aids with an interest in enterprise risk management and ESG investing.