When the goals differ

2013-08-05 00:00

EVERY nation across the globe has its discourse of political education. This discourse is dominated by two contradicting agendas. These are the social-equity ticket and the global neoliberal capitalist agenda.

The social-equity ticket is concerned with political transition that achieves socioeconomic freedoms through increased social spending.

The global neoliberal capitalist framework is based on a substantial reduction in social spending. The result is a contradiction that manifests itself in national development paths.

The United States, Europe, the Eastern Block and Africa have all experienced the pinch of an ailing international economy. From this contradiction, myriad issues and political disputes emerge. They dictate and shape the contemporary discourse on political education. We hear and read heated debates and disputes around development and transformation. By and large, these disputes are about economic reform. This short discussion will identify a few of the fundamental contradictions that dictate political education, especially in developing states, such as South Africa.

Political leaders across the world use electioneering as the only component of political education. This creates unrealistic expectations that are difficult to implement once the leaders are in power. Political education can mean anything, from party political-propaganda machinery that clings to political power, to the overthrowing of unjust regimes. For the marginalised populations, it may include political struggles that seek to liberate them. But it can also mean continuous manipulation and control, by the politically educated few and economic master minds, to retain their influence in the national economy.

These are some arguments that suggest that the wealthy and politically connected families find ways to influence strategic policies that benefit their future business. Some argue that this has a tendency to transform some communities into powerful economic hubs. This is done by injecting public resources into strategic locations, turning them into affluent communities that believe in retaining the dominant economic system. It can be argued that affluent communities produce opinion makers and economic drivers, while the underdeveloped settlements provide the required numbers for the ballot box.

In this instance, South Africa is regarded as a gateway to Africa. Cities such as Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town draw economic resources and labour from small towns and rural areas. This is simple urbanisation. The result is that affluent and underdeveloped communities hold different assumptions about the meaning of political education. It can be seen as an electioneering instrument to secure political power.

For some, political education could mean civil disobedience, consumer rights and economic freedom. It could also include strategic efforts to strengthen the young democracy. Ideally, political education should connect the many pockets of knowledge that elevate accountability on the part of the state and responsibility on the part of the citizens. These pockets of knowledge should enable citizens to appreciate the relationship between the state and the international community. Is this a realistic expectation for underdeveloped communities?

For struggling citizens languishing in poverty, the culprit remains the state. They feel that the state has betrayed them, reneging on its core responsibility of providing social services to the people. History has proven that a change of political power does not necessarily lead to the end of poverty. If political education is to be seen in this light, it can only suggest a political project to liberate that has gone wrong. If the political state has not abdicated this liberation political project, then some questions should be asked. For instance, is the political state struggling to implement development solutions suggested in the pre-1994 liberation agenda?

The unintended outcome can be devastating. It can reduce political manifestos to rhetoric. The capacity of local government to deliver can be challenged. Electioneering may blur the purpose of political education, especially in underdeveloped settlements. However, electioneering can be persuasive and self-destructive. It has a tendency to raise expectations that cannot be met.

The reality is that the prophets of a neoliberal market economy have run out of ideas. It continues to distort national development reform and turns governments into promoters of foreign investment and multinational corporations. In the process, citizens are transformed into pools of profit that feed the -growing monster of rich oligarchies.

But silence on these issues may attract emotional arguments that label citizens as political identities or captive consumers. In other words, some political education agendas may create over-politicised communities that lose shared moral values. This may derail the purpose of political education, which is to help achieve the democracy and social equity we were promised. We have a collective responsibility to deal with these development contradictions head-on.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

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