Are We Doomed?
ARE WE DOOMED?
By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation
In a recent article Jeremy Gordin speculated on ‘whether or not we are doomed’.
Worrying about the future is - and always has been - a central aspect of being a South African. Since 1652, visitors to our country have generally concluded that “it is a lovely place - but cannot possibly last for another five years.” It occurred to me the other day while I was shaving that there has hardly been a morning during the past 45 years when I have not awoken with a jolt and worried about the country.
I can remember 1985, when there seemed to be very little hope at all. PW Botha had just made his disastrous Rubicon speech (my candidate for the worst political communication in history). The US TV networks were flooded every evening with scenes of mayhem in our streets; the international media were circling ominously above South Africa - like vultures over a dying animal. The next big international story - bigger even than the demise of the Shah - would be regime change in South Africa. Americans were phoning their friends in Johannesburg, begging them to catch the last 747 out of Jan Smuts - that is, if they could make their way to the airport through the burning wreckage.
I also recall the “winter of discontent” in 1992, when the ANC had decided to abandon CODESA and had embarked on a campaign of rolling mass action. The left wing had argued that it was not necessary to make all the compromises that negotiations would inevitably require. Why not pursue the “Leipzig option” instead? The idea was that if the ANC could get enough people into the streets and cripple the economy with rolling strikes, the National Party government would collapse, just as the East German government had done a few years earlier. The long months between June and September brought the country close to the abyss - starting at Boipatong and ending in the confrontation at Bisho. The next target, a mass march on Ulundi, would have plunged us into chaos. Fortunately, Nelson Mandela pulled the ANC back from the brink - and reopened the road to a negotiated settlement.
Our present situation - though fraught with danger - presents significantly more hope.
On the negative side, the ANC plans to embark on a ‘second transition’ that would dispense with some of the constitutional agreements on which our new society has been constructed. Anthea Jeffery is quite right that the ‘second transition’ is the next phase in the implementation of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the ANC’s guiding ideology. The goal of the NDR is a non-racial democracy in which all South Africans would be confined to demographic pens - 2.2% of ownership, management, jobs, land etc. would be reserved for Indians; 8.8% for coloureds; 9.3% for whites and 79.7% for blacks.
That, however, is the good news. For Cosatu and the SACP the NDR would be only a staging post en route to the dictatorship of the proletariat and a full-blown communist state. (Cosatu actually adopted a resolution to this effect at its 2006 congress.)
However, there is also a great deal on the positive side.
Ironically, it was best articulated by one of the ANC’s top ideologists, Deputy Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi. In an article in September 2011, he complained that during the negotiations “apartheid forces” had succeeded in “emptying the legislature and executive of real political power.” They had done this by “immigrating substantial power away from the legislature and the executive and vesting it in the judiciary, Chapter 9 institutions and civil society movements.”
Exactly. The Constitution did not devolve absolute power on parliament and on the executive. It provided them with all the powers they needed to rule - but required them to do so within the reasonable constraints established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This means that power is, indeed, dispersed throughout society; that unconstitutional laws and conduct can be checked by an independent judiciary; that ordinary citizens can promote their legitimate objectives through civil society organisations and that they can appeal to Chapter 9 institutions to defend their rights.
Our second advantage is that South Africans who support the Constitution are now fully in step with the best elements in the international community. Any government action that deviates too significantly from international norms of democratic and economic governance will be severely punished by markets and international opinion.
Thirdly, no modern state can successfully govern against the will of substantial minorities. The United States would not be able to ignore the reasonable interests of any of its minorities. Neither can South Africa. There is no way that government will be able to achieve important national goals if it alienates significant minorities and interest groups.
Fourthly, those who support pragmatic constitutional and economic approaches have an enormous advantage on what the ANC calls ‘the battlefield of ideas’. Ideological approaches - like apartheid, the NDR and (particularly) communism - simply do not work. They inevitably end in economic distortion or collapse - and always result in unacceptable human repression and suffering.
Finally, support for the Constitution is no longer a black/white thing. Black politicians, journalists, businessmen and religious leaders are in the vanguard of those who support the Constitution. They know that it is the best guarantee for the continuation of freedom, reconciliation and national unity - and they also know that it advocates transformation. The principles of democratic governance, openness, accountability, responsiveness and the supremacy of the rule of law are not alien ‘Western’ constructs: they are the fundamental requirements for successful societies everywhere - in Europe, in the Americas, in Asia and in Africa.
We are not doomed - provided that we can work together as South Africans to support our Constitution; to demand the rights that it guarantees; and to achieve the vision of human dignity, equality and enjoyment of human rights and freedoms that it articulates.
There is, however, no room for complacency. I am sure that I shall continue to wake up every morning with a jolt and worry about the challenges that each new day will bring. That is the nature of being a South African.
Published in: FW de Klerk Foundation