How to end the destruction of public property

2017-10-08 05:43

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South Africa has nursed its wounds without achieving any recognisable healing for more than 20 years. These wounds are structural and require systematic medication that addresses both symptoms and causes. A process of finding some restoration for victims of apartheid began with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC’s shortcomings, in emphasising disclosure above justice, exposed the journey still required to build a more inclusive society.

Perhaps what is now required is a TRC to deal with cross-generational anger, existing in a noticeable manner in those born after apartheid. The so-called “born-free” generation is, debatably, most disillusioned with the outcomes of democracy and the unfulfilled promises of the “rainbow nation” or, more fittingly, our cappuccino country. Given our high levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and cancerous corruption, this is a generation facing the brunt of disadvantage caused by these negative structural conditions. There can be no denial that if we fail to passably address these social ills, it will threaten the moral regeneration of our land.

Given this milieu, there is an urgent need to assess the methods of struggle used by the wretched of our earth. During the pre-1994 fight against apartheid, guerrilla tactics were used in a bid to render South Africa lawless and ungovernable. In the absence of representative and legitimate legal institutions, people’s justice became the norm. It was by a miracle that the country held together, leading to the establishment of a democratic dispensation. The eventual negotiated settlement was established based on principles of negotiation, compromise, sacrifice and consensus.

Representative councillors

But was this settlement sufficiently communicated to everyone as a preferable – and “civilised” – means to raise concerns and solve grievances?

How possible is it to convince people who don’t have access to lawfare, to abandon instruments of liberation (such as stones and tyres), which worked well in compelling the apartheid regime to the negotiating table? What would replace these instruments when, for one, representative councillors are motivated not to serve communities but are driven to be served with diminishing public resources?

Which platforms can be relied on when bargaining chambers are approached, not to seek shared solutions, but to entrench calcified positions?

The dispute over municipal borders is one example where public schooling has suffered. How to explain the almost Kafkaesque phenomenon, in some communities, of protests over RDP houses degenerating to a point where there is vandalism and destruction of houses? Not only is it illegal to destroy public property, but it causes fear, psychological damage and antisocial behaviour.

Fortunately, several options are available to get us off the disastrous offramp we are stuck on. In all, these proposed solutions should be localised, have the agreement of affected communities, and be people-centred.

Dependent society

First, like any country involved as we are in low-intensity warfare – with world-record-high homicide and sexual violence – we need a collective debriefing programme. The aim of this would be to disarm our country. Linked to this would be a follow-up campaign to isolate those who use the cover of legitimate civil disobedience for vile criminal acts. This has been done in recent protests staged against proven allegations of state capture and the #GuptaLeaks.

Second, we need a shift from viewing government as a giver of public goods to an enabler of opportunities and conducive legislation.

Tragically, we have become a heavily dependent society which does not prioritise granting people the means to empower and uplift themselves. Instead of providing free houses, free clinics and free schools, there is nothing stopping government from granting local communities land and limited support capital for them to build these facilities themselves.

Would this not instil a sense of pride and ownership in those communities?

Would this not encourage them to protect these public amenities since they help their children and their sick?

Black nationalist movement leader Marcus Garvey is on record as saying: “Action, self-reliance and the vision of self and the future have been the only means by which the oppressed have seen and realised the light of their own freedom".

Stringent system

Third, while waiting for the implementation of such programmes, government authorities have to do more to explain the meaning of “people’s property".

More campaigns are obligatory, on both social media and at taxi ranks, to ensure politicians are held accountable at national, provincial and local levels. The power of the ballot box should be used to reward and remove public representatives.

There is room to start considering combining our Western-style democracy with the Chinese model of meritocracy. What is meritocracy? It is a model of organising the general affairs of society and emphasises selecting public servants on the basis of proven ability and competence. Proponents of meritocracy will inform you that, based on their stringent system, divisive demagogues like Donald Trump would not have become president.

One just imagines the multiplier impact of applying meritocracy in the 263 South Africa municipalities.

One also visualises, with unadulterated elation, the cumulative positive effect of applying meritocracy at the ANC elective conference in December, and in the 2019 national elections. In essence, meritocracy is an antidote to nepotism, kleptocracy or an oligarchy where the 1% rule over the 99%, as French economist Thomas Piketty elaborates about the return, in the 21st century, of the gilded age of inequality.

Fourth, ending the destruction of public property can be directly linked to morality instilled in the family, in schools, and on other public mediums. In a practical sense, it requires foregrounding civic education so that it becomes the new normal not to litter, not to piss on street corners, and not to wolf-whistle at girls and young women.

Hence the view of the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) that protecting public property is an ethical issue, because if we do not take care of public property then, surely, we cannot be entrusted to run the country.

Groove of hopelessness

The distinction between pure savagery and being moral citizens is clear when university students, raising genuine grievances about water and power cuts, resort to looting a bookshop and burning staff quarters.

It made political and ethical sense to use violence in the fight against apartheid, when the military might of the previous regime was bent on crushing the black body. It makes no political or rational sense to destroy and damage public property in a democracy which depends, for its very sustenance, on the participation of all citizens, even when law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system are caught up in factional battles.

Fifth, since our republic is based on the ethic of ubuntu, it is reassuring to see the business sector taking up the cudgels and investing in South Africa.

It makes business sense for the private sector to invest in small, medium and micro enterprises and in our young people. This will change for the better the lives of the three million young people not in education, employment, or skills training. The net effect of such ventures is to remove idle minds from the street corner and the groove of hopelessness.

Of course, almost all these proposals depend on our selecting and appointing morally upright leaders at all levels of governance. Insisting on selfless ethical leadership is important to restore confidence and trust in public institutions, more so for the occupants of the Union Buildings.

Responsible freedom

After all, ethical leadership is synonymous with role model leadership. Providentially, the moral collapse of the status quo is reversible if we prioritise some form of an RDP of the soul, premised on collective remoralisation.

We should consider, amid the undeniable gloom, an emancipatory economic Codesa, to goad private sector investment in South Africa after December. First though, the public should be uncompromising in demanding that all leaders live by the principles enshrined in the MRM’s charter of positive values, which are anchored in the promotion of responsible freedom and the rule of law.

French philosopher Albert Camus said that “a man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world".

Mkhatshwa and Sehume are associated with the MRM

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Read more on:    protests  |  violence  |  apartheid  |  democracy

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