Stay vigilant post-JZ
Tweets, leaked audio recordings and Instagram posts have been analysed for clues about developments in the “transition”, where bland official party statements have failed to give definitive answers. The anxiety in the air, coupled with frustrated calls for politicians to resolve an impasse they created, reflect our nation’s involuntary addiction to politics.
A strong democracy requires multiple centres of power. This moment of confusion just goes to demonstrate how politics has become overly dominant in directing the state of affairs in our country. Worse is that this is a politics that does not create incentives for political representatives to be responsive to the needs of citizens.
This calls for other sections of society, especially civil society and business, to exercise their distinct forms of power to shape outcomes.
A strong business sector provides livelihood opportunities outside the state.
But beyond that, the private sector can also serve as a source of ideas about the economic development of a nation.
The challenge, as we have learnt, is when there is an inappropriate entanglement between business and the state.
But this should not lead to condemnation of business as inherently corrupt, as it can in fact play a countervailing role to political power.
This role becomes important where politics become toxic and governance is derailed. In the South African case, this role is an uncomfortable one given the crisis of legitimacy faced by business.
The issue will diminish, albeit slowly, as business becomes more diverse along lines of race and gender but also generation, tone and social consciousness.
Many nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have risen to the challenge of tackling the corruption and misgovernance in the public sector and some have also taken the fight to business. This is not a recent phenomenon. NGOs such as the Khulumani Support Group and the Treatment Action Campaign have been at it since the early years of democracy.
However, a disturbing strain of criticism and scrutiny has emerged, with the bona fides of NGOs being questioned and insinuations being made about the motives of their leadership or sources of funding.
Yet a true democracy is populated by many types of voluntary organisations, where people can rally around their objectives and passions. This complements government and political mobilisation.
It also acts as a countervailing force.
The current political machinations should not obscure the vitality of other sections of South African society.
Therein lies our salvation. Politicians, and the governments they lead, do not have answers to all of society’s problems.
Mistakes were made in the 1990s, for instance, when funders pulled out of nonracial independent schools in the misplaced hope that a new political order meant the new government would deliver high-quality education.
Civil society organisations in many spheres suffered the same fate, leaving a vacuum.
As we observe the ANC’s efforts to revitalise itself, we should not be seduced into thinking that the “transition” will usher in a new era that requires less activism and vigilance.
Energy has to be placed in resourcing other centres of power in society.
There is also much obvious repair that needs to be applied to the institutions of the state, which have failed to remove a hopelessly flawed president.
It is dangerous that the country now relies on a narrow political victory for sanity to be restored. The best that can come out of this moment is an even more energised and engaged citizenry. That is where the power should lie.
lMakhaya is CEO of Makhaya Advisory