Stability Watch - Opinion

A society at war with itself – mediation needed?

We need a ‘Clem Sunter’ again

In these days of “near revolution” it is timely to consider, in the language of Clem Sunter, the flags – red or otherwise – that are frantically waving in relation to the stability in South Africa.

What, indeed, lies ahead, we may ask, and just how well prepared are we to deal with the many scenarios that are looming large on our smouldering horizon on many fronts?

More to the point, in my humble opinion, someone like Clem Sunter should be conscripted into the public arena without delay. His mandate?  To, as a top priority, initiate a mediation process, which is ultimately essential to save the 2016 academic year at South Africa’s tertiary education institutions.

It must quell the destruction and irreversible loss of valuable time our institutions of higher learning can so ill afford as the year draws to its end. Getting the exams written is now the no 1 priority.

Historical lesson

We will all, to a higher or lesser degree, recall the mesmerising influence Clem Sunter had on the strategic thinking and planning by all sides of the socio-political and economic divides of pre-1994 South Africa.

It was his “high road/low road” scenario that helped get key warring factions in society to abandon the confrontational and violent options in favour of a negotiated settlement – and what a settlement it turned out to be!

The dialogue triggered by his formulation of the “high road/low road” scenarios   played a crucial role in strengthening the hand of the Afrikaner ‘verligtes’ (reformist) to overcome the then persuasive onslaught of the ‘verkramptes’ (conservatives) to escalate the war on ‘terrorism’.

In the referendum on the 17th of March 1992 among the white electorate, the vote went roughly 60% in favour of peace. It was the turning point in the white communities’ willingness to sit down around the table with the many ‘enemies’ they perceived to have had at the time. It also sent a strong signal to the majority black community that negotiations and peaceful change were possible.

The process that followed was a resounding success for the voices of reason in the political Codesa that brought a government of national unity led by the first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela.

Developments since

The developments since that first election in 1994 are extremely complicated and a multitude of factors played a role. But, since then, Clem Sunter has been at great pains to point out that the root cause of many of our subsequent and current tensions and wide-scale civil dissatisfaction, is the failure by the powers that be.

And it is not just the responsibility of political leaders, but also of those in business and civil society to complete the country’s transformation.

The foundation of any successful society is a well-functioning and growing economy.

What we now need above all is an economic ‘Codesa’ mandated to find solutions to the many deeply rooted challenges presently confronting our hopelessly unequal societies.

More to the point, let’s consider a few useful pointers:

 RED FLAG: We are undoubtedly facing extremely tough economic times.

 The World Bank recently cut its prospects for SA’s growth for 2015/6 from 0,8% in April to 0.4% at the end of September. That is very much in line with the Reserve Bank’s projections and resonates with the warning by S & P Global that internal political instability and the failure to reform State-Owned Entities (consider the SABC board cocking its nose at the parliamentary committee...) pose a real threat to our continued prosperity.

 GREEN FLAG: The South African Reserve Bank, despite the headwinds of rankling inflation, resolved to hold the repo rate (and by implication, the prime lending rate) steady at relatively low levels. That bodes well for our homeowners with bonds and for new entrants to the market.

 RED FLAG: The state-owned special (i.e. damage and loss due to political unrest and insurrection, etc.) insurance risks company Sasria recently announced that it had received claims of R729 million in the 2015/6 year – by far the highest in its history. In fact, it represented a 39% increase over the R525m claims received by it in the 2014/15 year. Interestingly, the claims break-down was:

- 50% due the service delivery protests;

- 29% to labour issues; and

- Only 18% to student protests ...

 GREEN FLAG: The government is to partner with business to establish an Agricultural Growth Fund (a misnomer when considering the greater ambit of its influence (refer below). Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe announced this long awaited joint effort to build widespread capacity, which will support productive farming initiatives, revitalise declining industrial areas, increase the number of trained nurses and lend specialised support to our highly successful national tourism marketing projects.

At the end of the day it is our duty to plan for and meet those challenges that would otherwise capsize the “good ship South Africa.” To use the Sunter terminology: The National Development plan has thus far not succeeded in getting us on the 'high road.' And it will not as long as not even the president of the country can not remember its nine points and it is soely left to government to implement it.

What we need, is a platform and the leadership on all fronts to – Codesa style – develop a truly national vision in which the effort to makr it reality it, all sectors, from the government, private sector to organised civil society are involved as a team.


by Eve van Basten

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