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A Condition for Good Governance

Cape Times (South Africa), November 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

A Condition for Good Governance

BYLINE: Sipho M Pityana

There are few countries in the world about which the Financial Times could offer two such apparently contradictory editorials, within one month of each other: one acclaiming South Africa's impeccable hosting of the World Cup; the other decrying the lurch towards media suppression, and using the word "Zimbabwe" to underline the seriousness of their reading on the situation. This is a place where two narratives can, and often do, jostle for supremacy.

We are reaching a fork in the road and we must avoid travelling in the wrong direction.

The mission to deliver a just and decent society is being derailed by a bare-knuckled contest for power and resources.

We are witnessing a transition from the politics of social justice, liberation and public service to that of wealth accumulation, concentration of political power and hegemony.

I have noted how generally muted the response of civil society has been, with notable, and noble, exceptions. Instead of taking their futures by the scruff of the neck, the majority of South Africans have become passive spectators. The notion of "active citizenship"has been lost.

These are the main reasons why in September this year we launched the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac).

Recognising that while there were a number of very capable civil society organisations focusing on particular rights or specific issues, there was no one organisation whose mandate was the constitution itself - as a framework of accountable governance that offered a progressive vision of the future, based on ideals of equality and justice.

We launched Casac at Liliesleaf Farm, Johannesburg, the site of the arrest of the Rivonia Triallists, and we did so for a reason: the constitution was a product not just of political compromise, but also of a profound political struggle based on the principles of the Freedom charter - the values of which are in danger of being submerged by the rush to a personal enrichment of a new, venal conservative faction that straddles the right-wing of the ANC alliance and a broader political establishment formed over the past decade.

These developments threaten not only the progressive vision of the constitution but potentially all our democratic foundations and our prospects for prosperity.

In our struggle for liberation, we were guided by the revolutionary theory that we must seize state power in order to use that institution to advance the objectives of freeing our people from poverty, economic marginalisation and subjugation. The state would be transformed from an entity aimed at serving the apartheid system to one that would deliver services to all.

We considered it urgent that a competent progressive state was established quickly, able to address the needs of the population as a whole. This view was shared by the donor community who also placed greater emphasis on partnership with the democratic state.

The result was a great reforming government; and a state that developed legislation, policy and social programmes designed to deliver on our democratic constitutional mandate. But civil society structures were stripped of much of their intellectual and strategic capacity as well as financial and other resources, as the new democratic state commanded these resources.

The tail began to wag the dog.

This was a sharp contrast to our great political traditions.

For one, the struggle for liberation saw the mobilisation of the broadest coalition of civil society - the religious formations, youth and student bodies, trade unions, women's groups, academics and various professional organisations, rural structures and many others.

Many of these were in the ANC-aligned United Democratic Front, operating under the umbrella of the Mass Democratic Movement. The seizure of state power was ultimately not a result of a marauding liberation army, but largely popular struggles and resistance as well as international pressure.

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