Let's Think

South Africa’s transition has just speeded-up

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The integration of South Africa’s diverse society into a unified nation embracing a true inclusive democracy and economy picked up momentum with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the country.

Best illustrating this, for us, is the fact that, while celebrating the 106th birthday of his party, Mr Ramaphosa on the same day could be found ‘shaking the bones’ of the ancestors of one component of the population, and playing a round of golf with amongst others, business leaders.

One also saw something of this in his first high profile public appearance earlier in the week when he met with Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini. At this meeting he addressed the issue of land reform, and expropriation without compensation, but also directed his message to more than one audience by pairing it with assurances to the markets and investors.

His performance in KwaZulu-Natal reminded one a bit about what was said at the time of the late John Vorster (also a keen golfer), that he at times talked to the ‘right’ and moved to the ‘left.’ It was under the leadership of Vorster that the first tentative moves at reform by the National Party (NP) came about – remember economic necessity driven developments such as the scrapping of so-called ‘job reservation?’

The reform process under Vorster and the NP was initially not only tentative, and painfully slow, but it did pick-up momentum over time until it finally helped deliver the 1994 constitutional settlement under the NP-leadership of F.W. de Klerk.

Internal divisions

It should also be remembered that the Vorster moves triggered internal divisions which became known as the verlig/verkramp (enlightened/reactionary) battle.

It is important to understand that South Africa’s first transition to democracy was not delivered by a single leader, development, or event. It was a process.

The same holds true for the ANC, in which so-called factionalism has become an accepted everyday fact. It is also, reminding one of the verlig/verkramp-days. It is interesting that one increasingly sees commentators using the terms ‘reformist camp,’ and traditionalist grouping when referring to the two main factions.

However, we belief it is an over simplification, and mistake to, as mostly happen, link these ‘camps’ to individual personalities, their utterances, and actions as the primary drivers of these divisions.

They, their actions, and utterances are symptoms of the broader process of transition taking place, and one of a society coming to grips with the needs and dictates of a modern, and ever changing world, and economy.

Holistic view

 It is against this background, and taking into account other South African realities, like its ethnic, cultural, and tribal diversity that individual events and developments on the political, economic, and governance front should be judged – above all, over-reaction is an ever-present danger to be avoided.

At the time of writing while still only a rumour, the possible deployment of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as interim deputy-president of the country, for example need not be just a ‘victory’ for the traditionalist. As history shows, ‘co-option’ can often be the best route to persuasion.

Likewise, getting the cooperation of traditional leaders and finding ways of ‘expropriating’ land without straightforward financial compensation by creating private sector-like structures might be the route to economic inclusion and developing a thriving agricultural sector.

And, we are not fully convinced that the ‘surprise’ Zuma-announcement of the judicial commission of enquiry into state capture was a purely ‘Zuma-move,’ as it is generally believed to be. We might just have seen Mr. Ramaphosa in action in his own style.

To have expected Mr. Ramaphosa to come out all guns blazing, firing Mr Zuma, is naïve – that is just not his style. And, it is doubtful that it would have been in the best interest of the country. Our previous transition was peaceful because it was a managed transition, and that is what is needed once-again.

The right leader for the right time

Mr. Ramaphosa might have been elected by the ANC as the leader of that party, but the reality, as is the norm in party-political democracies across the world, he has effectively also been elected as leader of the country.

Unlike was the case with Mr. Vorster, however, he does not become the leader at the start of a totally new era (of reform) in the history of the country. It is rather a transition to a new phase in the process, (like was the case with ex-president FW de Klerk) to manage this new phase in the process of collective nation building – putting the past finally behind us in serving the greater good despite differences and clashing interests.

And, he has the right credentials, mix of skills, experience, and track record to successfully bridge some of the deep divides in the country:

He is a lawyer, founding leader of the, to date most successful trade union federation, but also a successful business man, was a leading light in the United Democratic Front that was effectively the domestic wing of the ANC in the final stages of the liberation struggle and played a pivotal role in the constitutional negotiations.

We believe there are reasons to be optimistic that the first ANC president who is not a member of the ‘exile/Robben Island club,’ will manage the present transitional phase positively.

However, it would be unrealistic to think it will happen overnight or will be a walk in the park. It would rather be an 18-hole golf game with plenty of bunkers, water holes and curves into the rough before the club house of a united and economically more secure nation is reached.

by Piet Coetzer

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