Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A turbulent year ahead, marked by ungovernability

All indications are that 2015 will be a tough year on many fronts.
The economic issues will fire up our current affairs, making engagements in the political sphere all the more charged. At the level of the of the broader economy there will be continued frustration as the economy continues to underperform, hobbled by a new constraints such as Eskom, continuing shocks from the global economy and old impediments such as the education system. The pressure will come as both the middle class and the working class feel the squeeze and demand that government and industry do more to implement of job-creation plans.
In the social sphere, 2015 will be the year where there will be even less social cohesion. At one level, this will manifest in a continuation of high levels of crime. Fuelled by unemployment and lack of hope, petty crime will be sustained while, syndicates will find new avenues to undermine society and gender violence will continue to cast its shadow over us. Any improvements in policing – and there are no indications that they will be sufficient – will be undermined by worsening conditions in our settlements and a rise in inequality.  

Lack of cohesion will also manifest in the form of an ongoing rupture between those governing and the governed.
One is likely to see an increase in ungovernability. We have already witnessed rowdy behaviour by political parties, an increase in conflict in the industrial relation arena and an average over 1000 community protests a month. Although there are many factors behind a breakdown in relations between government and citizens, anger about corruption will still be a major trigger for eruptions of ungovernability. In parliament and at community levels, we have seen how corruption mobilises divergent groups into strident and unified protest action.
Institutional factors will also contribute to making next year difficult – one that is filled with a sense of uncertainty and instability. On the one hand, we see that the ANC – a key institution that has acted as an engine for positive change during the transition – is weakened and, as President Jacob Zuma has noted, “in trouble”. In addition, South Africans are losing faith in public institutions. The Institute of Justice and Reconciliation reported this week that only 50 percent of South Africans who took part in a representative survey had faith in the country’s institutions. Because institutions help to channel differences and conflict, any significant loss of respect for them contributes to turbulence.  
Of course, this kind of assessment can be one-dimensional. It focuses necessarily on that which is deteriorating or tending towards atrophy. However, another part of reality will be that many elements will go on as before, including the dynamism that exists in our society. Although many small businesses will be under pressure, many entrepreneurs around the country will find gaps in the market and markets in the gaps. A few corporates will keep their commitment to create jobs and run supplier programmes with an affirmative action slant. Many educational institutions, including schools, will pursue and attain excellence. A few government departments will rally the troops and go the extra mile to reach delivery targets. There will continue to be leadership and resilience in communities. And numerous civil society organisations will soldier on, working close to communities, assisting them with immediate needs or to claim their rights.
It is also important to remember that, despite the many objective factors weighing down on us, we can influence many aspects of our reality. In this sense, the degree of turbulence is under our control. We can decide to find solutions, hold each other accountable, work harder to ensure implementation of election promises and be more focused on addressing the needs of the masses.
What if anything can be done? The following actions won’t prevent a bumpy ride in 2015, but could help us turn the corner and create conditions for better prospects (and greater common purpose) in the period thereafter.
The first task lies at the door of the ANC. In this regard, it is true, as President Zuma implied, that as the ANC goes, so goes the state. This is no place to fully analyse the problems of the ruling party. However, it urgently needs to address (a) its failure to get government to deliver according to its mandate, (b) the gap between itself and a wider base supportive of national democratic change and (c) its loss of the moral high ground. It must take steps to ensure we do not get to the explosion that Langston Hughes said comes after the “dream deferred”.

In addition, we as South Africans should consider the following actions as a response to the pressure that will face us in 2015:

·       There needs to be a firm commitment from the powers that be to open rather than close down the space for debate and discussion about national problems and solutions.

·       Citizens should become more active in getting closer to their specific representatives and supporting them where they perform and holding them accountable where they are just party hacks, sleep on the job or serve their own interests.

·       Citizens should step into spaces of engagement. Especially at local level – with regard to municipal issues and on issues such as community safety and school education. Although getting involved is difficult and often discouraged, we should know that we can only build a strong democracy if there is democracy at the base.

·       We must tirelessly build hope for the youth. Every company, non-profit organisation and quasi-state institution should commit to enrolling young people for internships and work experience.

·       Violence against women is such a fault line and a grim indicator of the state of things; we need to unite in action against it. We are involved as perpetrators, colluders and survivors. There is thus a great opportunity to bring South Africans from different classes and population groups ­together in sustained citizen campaigns on this issue.  

·       With the help of the CCMA, more companies and unions should work together to find models of management that allow workers and bosses to share in the ups and downs of company performance. Where such models already exist, we should promote them.
(This article first appeared in the press on 8 December 2014)
Frank Meintjies 

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