Mutual interest is gone

2014-06-15 15:00

The only way South Africa became free was because our wise men and women instilled in us an understanding of mutual interest.

This was the philosophy that, in a nation state where the population is heterogenous and multiclass, you have to instil – in philosophy and practice – the idea of mutuality.

This requires give and take: we got sunset clauses in the Constitution and law, and consensus and balance in legislation relating to labour and society.

The idea that our present and future wellbeing lies within each other was understood early by our democratic founding president Nelson Mandela.

Against the wishes of his movement, the ANC, Mandela began talks with apartheid’s hard men. The doves in the old National Party also understood that their only future was within a national democracy.

The platinum strike, said to be in its death throes at the time of writing, symbolises the loss of mutual interest in our country and society.

Neither the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) nor the three mines at the centre of the strike showed themselves to be inheritors of the mantle of Mandela. At no point did the corporates attempt an arrangement of vision that recognised the mining industry had

not changed sufficiently – this could have been by getting negotiators to plan increases based on productivity enhancements, co-ownership, better housing and the like.

At no point did Amcu’s bosses show anything but a populist hand; it fell to charities and other unions to provide food and support to households that crumbled. Not once did the union’s leaders acknowledge that a prolonged strike could mean the industry might go to the wall – to let miners make an informed choice to stay out.

The state did not do a good job either. Our mining laws are an attempt to create a better industry (and therefore secure industry and worker interests) but they are so poorly implemented that the potential of the laws has been squandered by incompetent bureaucrats who don’t do their work.

For South Africa to work, we need to build on the legacy Mandela left us: at its most basic, it means being able to walk in the other person’s moccasins to understand his or her life and where it intersects with yours.

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