A fresh value system will save South Africa

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Joined: Nov 2016

File photo by Delwyn Verasamy/M&G

South Africa needs a new society-wide consensus replacing the one forged after 1994 following the end of formal apartheid, which every political party, group and community, whatever their ideology, should subscribe to. 

In post-World War  II, many successful countries, after the conflict, often cobbled together a consensus on key issues, which all political parties, groups and communities, whatever their ideology, religion or past, often agreed to. 

For example, in post-war Western Europe, the welfare state, a non-political, reasonably merit-based public service, honesty, basic communal moral values, democracy, rule-based market economy, social compacts between government, business and labour and supporting private entrepreneurs, were the bedrock of consensus in many of these countries. 

In Germany, the welfare state, democracy, a productive public service, the social market economy, prudent public finance management, social pacts between government, business, labour and building private industries became the pillars of the post-war consensus. In Switzerland, the national consensus across politics included the acceptance of coalition governments to be part of the national identity, for the country to stay neutral in wars and for the accommodation of four national language groups. 

In Japan, the post-World War II consensus was to build a globally competitive manufacturing industry, a merit-based, professional public sector, a basic set of moral values, democratic principles, making Japan the number-one economy in the world and businesses practice a form of company welfare. 

There was a society-wide consensus that Japan should prioritise economic growth, avoid military action and reject nuclear weapons. In all these societies, whatever political party comes to power, whether on the left, centrist or right, adheres to the consensus. 

The society-wide consensus in South Africa forged after the ending of apartheid in 1994, has now collapsed because of corruption, dishonesty, breakdown of basic moral standards, breakdown of the rule of law, competing governance systems to the Constitution, state failure, tribalisation, the exclusion of large numbers of South Africans based on colour, gender and where they live and uncaring public and government representatives.  

What would be the pillars of a new consensus be for South Africa? 

The Constitution has to be the apex governance system in the country and no competing governance system should be allowed, whether customary law, township or village communal culture, gang culture or liberation party culture. 

Building a democracy as the universal system for all South Africans should be a key part of it. In this context, the best way forward for South Africa is not Afrikaner or African nationalism, but what Michael Ignatieff described as “civic nationalism”, in which the glue that holds communities together is equal rights and shared democratic cultures, values and institutions, rather than ethnic nationalism, whether isiZulu, Indian, Afrikaner or coloured. Citizens of all ethnic, racial and religious groups must embrace democracy, democratic institutions and democratic values and behaviour. 

South Africa’s diversity must be accepted by all as a pillar of the country’s identity. Many South Africans appear to think that the country’s diversity is an obstacle to economic growth, development and peace. Embracing, building on and leveraging South Africa’s diversity is crucial to lifting economic growth, inclusive development and maintaining societal peace. 

A professional, merit-based, non-politicised public service not aligned to a governing party is a critical pillar of a new consensus. A professional public service is not only key for delivering public services, for a functioning economy and building a common identity, and, therefore, plays a key role in uniting South Africans across race, class and politics. 

An accountable, effective and honest public service allows citizens to accept the state — especially in the context of SA’s apartheid state, where many black South Africans saw the state as illegitimate. The public service is critical in diffusing and normalising good moral, democratic, responsive and accountable behaviour, or not, to citizens, and, therefore, helping to install a democratic culture or not society. 

The rule of law has to be a central pillar of a new consensus. And everyone, including the politically connected must adhere to the rule of law. 

A critical pillar of the new consensus will have to be to tackle racism, tribalism and xenophobia. Because of South Africa’s historical legacy of race-based discrimination, a new consensus must also have redress or social justice as a central pillar. There has to be solidarity for the vulnerable across ethnicity, colour and political affiliation. 

However, the redress strategy has to be reimagined. It cannot be on the basis of the current BEE policies which have mostly empowered the politically connected. It will be critical that empowerment policies focus on genuinely uplifting not only the poor, but the widest number of people at the same time, whatever their race, colour or political affiliation — rather than a small elite, whether white or black or both. 

Empowerment will have to deliver skills, quality education and entrepreneurial opportunities, business finance and home ownership to ordinary people, not just the politically connected. In the immediate period, South Africa needs a basic income grant, but one which is linked to an ecosystem of skills development, entrepreneurship, democratic civic education, active citizenship and strengthening individual agency. 

This must also target South Africa’s unemployed youth, including those unskilled, unschooled and graduates. For youth in particular, grants should also be linked to technical training — skills the economy needs, such as plumbing, early childhood development and adult basic education.

Conditions for grants could include compulsory democratic citizens education which would include understanding the Constitution, democratic moral behaviours and gender equality. Recipients could also be asked to volunteer in their communities, whether cleaning streets or guarding schools. 

There has to be a social pact between government and business — not misguided failed attempts at social pacts. But a new social pact must include a jobs pledge to get millions of post-school youth into getting technical training, entrepreneurship skills, access to business finance and job opportunities, in partnership with business. 

There has to be a national consensus to tackle apartheid-induced mass trauma. Mass trauma leaves individuals, families and communities so broken that many struggle to engage fully in the life of intimate relationships, democracy, the state, development initiatives, business and in the workplace. It leaves many with pervasive, deep-seated and persistent feelings of angst, insecurity and with inferiority complexes. 

Crucially, it destroys the agency of individuals: the ability to act on one’s own will, despite the constraints of belief systems one has grown up with, others’ perceptions of one and a limiting environment. 

Unless state-building, development, empowerment and workplace development programmes tackles the deep-seated insecurity trauma leaves victims with, it will not only impact the individual, undermining their health, bringing toxicity into their personal relations, impairing their decision-making, it will also bring toxicity into the state, development and empowerment programs and the organisations traumatised individuals work for. 

Anti-poverty strategies must be multidimensional in that it must include self-esteem, self-love and self-care. It should be compulsory to have self-care, self-esteem and self-love as part of all government empowerment, public works and community building programmes.

Recipients of government social grants, financial support and scholarships must be compelled to attend civic, democracy and self-esteem, self-love and self-care programmes. All other areas of human interaction — social, religious, cultural and political organisations — should include self-love, agency assertion and self-esteem as part of their induction, training and wellness programmes. 

The state should consider deploying an army of community counsellors — which could also be a practical form of job creation — across the country to provide support. 

Delivering quality public services, making the country safe, creating job, business and empowerment opportunities as well as strengthening democracy, will help boost the self-esteem, self-love and individual agency of the formerly oppressed. Critically, the state must treat citizens with dignity, care and efficiency. 

Finally, there has to be a new consensus to change the country’s national culture, the way citizens engage with others, what is seen as acceptable social norms, values and behaviour — many of these have been corrupted. Many South Africans often do as they please, behave selfishly, irresponsibly and ignoring the well-being of others. 

This ranges from people playing loud music and hosting drunken parties late into night in townships, suburbs or public parks, without any care for neighbours; or smokers mindlessly smoking in public places, causing harm to non-smokers; or simply, somebody littering in public spaces. 

Similarly, often those who protests in defence of their “rights” — whether it is the Fees must Fall protests, strikers demanding wage increases or communities demanding better public services — often deliberately harming others, whether innocent bystanders or opponents, destroy private property, such as factories and public assets, such as libraries. In exercising their “rights,” they destroy the rights of others. 

To ensure mass behaviour changes there has to be greater enforcement of duties, responsibilities and accountabilities by the authorities. Ultimately, elected public representatives must also exercise their duties, responsibilities and accountability to their citizens – in order to install a culture of duties, responsibilities and accountability by ordinary citizens in their own spheres. 

William Gumede is the founder of the Democracy Works Foundation and author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg).


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