Max du Preez

The painful birth of a new order

2015-11-03 07:45

Max du Preez

This is much too good a crisis to waste.

Protest actions, the occupation of public spaces and militant rhetoric make ordinary middle class citizens nervous and allow the prophets of doom to flourish.

The government and majority party retreat into a laager and try to defuse the onslaught; opposition parties try to cash in on the political instability; the business sector feverishly makes plans to protect its assets.

Then the temperature cools down and the protesters lose steam. And then it is back to the status quo ante, until the next crisis, which is bound to be worse.

One can only hope that South Africa will this time react differently to the political and social uprisings of the last weeks; that those in positions of power in politics and the private sector will realise that this is an ideal chance to engage in fresh thinking and to make sure that the country is going to be in better shape after the crisis.

Ticking time bomb

We are experiencing the slow death of the post-1994 dispensation and the painful birth of a new order. There is no better time than now to lay the foundation for this new deal. If we don’t, it will be forced upon us by militant forces and opportunistic politicians.

Many wise people warned over the last decade that South Africa was sitting on a ticking time bomb. Nobody did anything about it.

Most of these warnings were about the millions of those born after 1990 that had been failed by the education system and now sit in squatter camps without jobs and without much hope.

It turned out that the uprising didn’t come from them, but from those who had made it through high school and are now preparing for life in the middle class at university. And it wasn’t a bloody uprising, rather a fairly militant but mostly peaceful and well-articulated one.

Still, there is no guarantee that the protest actions at university could not spread to township and rural schools if some movement decided to mobilise them. The black ghettoes are already boiling over with frustration and anger, only it is hard for really poor people to mobilise nationally.

The EFF has grown in popularity since it attracted a million or so votes in last year’s election. We now know that it wasn’t a passing fad.

In fact, the EFF’s stated priority, the scrapping of the property rights clause in the Constitution, has become the basis of much of the national debate around equality and poverty.

If present trends continue, the ANC and EFF together could get well over 70% of the national vote in an election. And if the ANC continues to parrot the EFF’s rhetoric, we could project that the property clause could be scrapped after 2019.

This is bound to have catastrophic consequences for the economy and thus for stability. South Africans who want to avoid that, have to start working hard to prevent a political climate where this would be possible.

Second Transition

If the ANC and its government didn’t have so many warring factions and if the leadership had more legitimacy and demanded more respect, they would have cleared the tables and used the weeks and months ahead to do a proper audit of its policies and actions and to develop radical new strategies.

But the rest of the country should not again wait for government to lead. The business sector, academics, opposition parties, public intellectuals and professionals should wake from their deep slumber of the last decades.

There is still space and potential to use the fluidity that the student revolt had helped create to develop new survival strategies.

There is going to be a Second Transition - it has already started and cannot be delayed, but it can still be influenced.

South Africans can still achieve a better, fairer, more equal and more prosperous South Africa than the 2015 model if we don’t postpone and become blasé.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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