Reflections on the prospects of renewal in the era of the new dawn

By Mandla Nkomfe- 1. Introduction
This paper seeks to understand the prospects of organizational, societal, economic and political renewal against the context of our recent past. Given the extent of our accumulated challenges and problems that have set-in; in the body politic, is renewal possible? It further grapples with the very idea of renewal that is so present in our narrative. Is renewal possible? Under what conditions is renewal possible? To understand all this, the starting point is the appreciation of the political moment we are in. But the key question to ask is, what made the current problems (corruption and state capture) possible in the first place. The paper attempts to outline broad parameters of a possible programme of action. This programme is to be located in the understanding that we can effectuate a renewal process in some areas and break with the past in certain areas. The movement forward consists of three related processes which must be carried simultaneously. These relate to:
– firstly, ending state capture,
– secondly, using the constitution as a key ingredient in the renewal process and
– thirdly, undergoing a thoroughgoing societal transformation.
The present situation requires the pessimism of the intellect in that we should be able to rely on doubt as a mechanism of interrogating our phenomena. We should subject our reality to close scrutiny so as not to understand the passing phase as the answer to all our problems. Much as the latest political developments can come across as important when seen against our recent history, we do need to reflect deeply about the challenges facing our country and what they mean for the renewal of our politics, institutions, society and the economy.

Given the accumulated problems (economy, society, values, ethics, and the pervasion of our institutions) in the last decade and/or more, many amongst us have questioned the possibility of the renewal of our public affairs. Some have retreated from the public sphere to private spaces such as family and church. The extent of economic and social marginalization has seen the rise of conservatism, resorting to ethnic bound identities, a collapse of the non-racial project and the growth of misogyny in our spaces.

Political parties as mechanisms of participation and aggregating political views/values are emerging as vehicles for political/economic elites. The party machinery is being corrupted by the need amongst the political elites to access, control and distribute rent in a vertical fashion. This then creates conditions for a perfect capture.
In this situation, is renewal possible? What would be the conditions for renewal? How should this question be framed? Is the idea of renewal the correct one? Renew as a verb is understood to mean, “Resume (an activity) after an interruption”. The underlying text in this regard suggests that the original design was always going to be correct. That’s what happened with the GUPTA’s was an aberration and that we have to go back to our ways-economic path, democratic institutions and liberal inflections in our constitutional dispensation. So, we need to be clear on what is to be renewed. Some amongst us believe that this new political moment presents the opportunity to disrupt and curve new paths. We should experiment with new ideas in order to propel our society to new vistas, a society that will deliver on social justice and deep freedoms to all of its citizens.
Inherent in the idea of the optimism of the will, is the fact that, there has to be a determination to change the material conditions of life for the better. This paper argues that a case for renewal can be made as well as the fact that it is possible to chart new paths by way of disruptions. It is only a determined will that can create conditions for renewal and new break-ups. The key issue is to identify, what is to be renewed and what is to be discarded and in what areas do we chart new routes.

2. Understanding the political moment

Since December, 2017, the political terrain has changed, the Rent-Seeking tendency was pushed back, a new leadership was elected (not without its challenges) and new hope was generated by these developments. For many, possibilities for progressive change have been opened. There is still a need to fully comprehend the meaning/s of the political moment. The situation remains fluid and can be reversed. The dangers remain being that of talks of unity; unity of elite’s vs principled unity, a retreating force creating havoc (looting) and populism (being the year of elections).
It is important to note that change that came within the ANC in December, 2017, was brought about by forces outside of it; these being the markets, judiciary, courts, media, trade-unions, parliament, non-governmental organisations and the rest of civil society. These struggles forced the ANC to reluctantly align with the broad and popular sentiments of South Africans. While the Conference represented a strategic defeat of the visible manifestations of corruption, the system of state capture and corruption remains intact.

This moment has revealed the following:
– The centrality of the constitution as the nation’s moral compass and conscience
– Importance of constitutionalism
– The robust mobilization of civil society organisations – ensuring mass mobilization on numerous issues and raising consciousness of communities around corruption and state capture
– Repositioning of the state as a key site of struggle

We can conclude that the current situation remains in flux. The different layers of rent-seeking groups have the possibility of blocking the agenda for progressive and substantive change in South Africa. We can also conclude that reliance on one person/s is not a guarantee for breaking with the past. Social change will need combined efforts of a conscious people in the multiplicity of their organisations.

3. What made state capture possible?
The roots of our current politico-socio-economic conditions can be traced back to how our national life is organized ranging from the political system to the organisation and the performance of our economy. In this regard, state capture, corruption and the progressive break-down of our value system is not an aberration but a manifestation of a non -functioning polity.

– The recent developments in South Africa’s political affairs mark a high point in our democracy. While the visibility of these contradictions can be found in the phenomenon of state capture (the key symbol and its pervasiveness being the capture by the GUPTA’S), the material basis on these contradictions can be traced to the challenges in the economy (exclusions in terms of race, class, gender and geography). Economic growth and development has delivered little for the majority of South Africans. The ownership and management of the economy is still controlled by few monopolies.

– Entry to economic participation is (finance, network industries, mining) limited. Most studies conducted in South Africa and abroad point to the concentrated nature of our economy. The essence of the migrant labour system remains in place. The crisis of capitalism in our country is defined by massive job loss, displacement of workers, destruction of the environment, emergence of finance capital, the marginalization of other sectors of the economy such as manufacturing and the increase in inequality in terms of income and assets.

– The systemic nature of the crisis of the capitalist economy suggests that the solutions should be systemic and comprehensive. The introduction of rent in the form of black economic empowerment has benefited the few and excluded the majority of people. In this context, there has not been a comprehensive socio-economic transformation. State Capture in the form of the GUPTA’s, lifted corruption to high levels.

– The system of proportional representation in our national and provincial legislatures has reached its limits. While it sought to foster national unity, promote non-racialism and gender parity, it is failing in so far as the idea of accountability is concerned. It creates conditions for a vertical relationship of members and party leadership in political parties. The fidelity is to the party and not so much to South Africa. In recent times, there is a conflation of party and state relations which results in a negative impact in the quality of life of the citizens of the country and instead promotes the serving of the interests of the connected few.

– The system of political party funding does not promote disclosure and public scrutiny. State capture often starts with capture of political parties by anonymous donors. The reform of party funding will go a long way in opening up our political system.

4. Programme of Action
The broad programme for social transformation has to be underpinned by the desire to renew certain aspects of our national lives as well as creating new ways of sustaining life and our democracy. In some situations, ruptures with our hitherto paths have to be a reality. In other words, the Cyril moment must not make us long for the return to the “unproblematic pre-Zuma period” for that would be the highest form of nativism. Certain sectors of our society such as business and those of liberal persuasions wish for the return to stability and go on with life as we understand it. This period may as well represent an opportunity to do things differently. This period has three elements to it.

4.1. Reversing State Capture

One of these being to focus on reversing state capture. This will take some time to conclude. In this period, we have to support the work of the Judicial Commission on State Capture, ensure that there are prosecutions for those implicated in CS, parliament continues with its work of public inquiries, cleaning the state system such as addressing state owned enterprises (SOE’s) and dealing with corruption at municipal level.

4.2. Entrenching the constitution and constitutionalism
The constitution is the basis of our national lives. It embodies our foundational values as a people. A progressive interpretation of the constitution is thus required; otherwise it can be emptied of its progressive intent and content. The starting point for the renewal process has to be the robust implementation of the values and intent of the constitution. This has to address areas such as institution-building (institutions take time to build), reforming our political system (proportional representation/constituency-based system and reforming the political party funding system). The promotion of social capital and social cohesion is the necessary condition for reversing poverty and other negative tendencies that have emerged in our areas. In most situations, there is a link between the collapse of our communities with the extent of the economic marginalization.

4.3. A through-going programme for change

This aspect of the programme has to address fundamental issues that affect conditions for a fair dispensation. This has to look at the economic system that should deliver to all the people in South Africa.

Social Compact- New conditions for the current round of the new deal? Who is prepared to give what amongst the social actors? Is there a sense of solidarity amongst these?

4.4. Conclusion

The present situation requires that we undertake a wide-spread socio-political and economic renewal process that could deliver revolutionary reforms, breaking new ground and tackling concrete immediate challenges. Objectively, all the key elements are there, the key questions are whether the political subjective factor(leadership) is up to the tasks of our times. It requires that, we understand what it means to be a progressive today and what organizational/ institutional forms/ forms of engagement should define, contemporary reality. This will require that activists for social justice display the pessimism of the intellect( nothing should be taken for granted in analyzing social reality) and the optimism of the will (after all, our is to work for change).

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