We must ‘look to ourselves’

2013-09-13 00:00

WE may have achieved political freedom in 1994, but the transformation project is becoming more complicated every day. So-called “economic freedoms”, which promise improved living conditions, are threatening to derail the transformation project.

There are growing divisions among the social classes, which present themselves in many forms. Labour disputes, public-service protests, violent crime, dysfunctional leadership institutions and political mudslinging are a few of the many forms of class conflict, and are the root causes of social divisions.

I am interested in emerging perceptions about the development of the transformation project. Based on these emerging perceptions, I have concluded that the transformation project is the responsibility of every citizen, irrespective of political affiliation, social status or religion. I suggest that we think carefully about some of the concerns that are raised constantly about this subject.

The first concern has been raised by some academics and political analysts. They are worried about the emerging predatory culture of amassing wealth by those connected to the political elite. This poses the greatest threat to achieving national development objectives. First, it risks transforming political leadership positions into economic assets. Such behaviour tends to undermine the development agenda of local government. We have seen the price that our communities have paid as a result of the behaviour of disgruntled political-party members and factional battles.

Second, it risks weakening social and public structures and institutions that have been the source of integrity, trust and hope for many people. We need to ask ourselves a question: will social cohesion and coexistence prevail in the absence of credible community institutions? This cannot be ignored.

The second concern relates to a view that some public institutions tend to condone improper conduct. If development takes this path, we may be marching towards a cul-de-sac. It may become very difficult to correct these emerging perceptions when they become “institutionalised” and are accepted as ways of securing a better life. This may lead to the erosion of the principles of ubuntu. When this happens, it becomes very difficult for the predatory elite to enforce corrective measures when they themselves are tainted with the same transgressions. Under these circumstances, what can ordinary citizens do differently to achieve some form of accountability?

Lastly, it is about political careerism and political mudslinging. This is a real dilemma for public services. Over the years, it has become one of the biggest barriers to service delivery. Some public servants find themselves spending valuable time and energy working under extreme pressure as a result of political mudslinging. How do local-government councillors respond to attacks that they only deliver when they want to make some political concessions with the poor? This is also a dilemma for local governance. Should they give poor people power and face the political consequences?

At this point, we need to revisit the practical meaning of development. It could mean inducing people to support national development thinking by motivating them to support the broad development agenda. But it includes some improper characters who present contradictory behaviour as well

These improper behaviours fuel the view that having connections to powerful people is the only guarantee of employment. We should not shy away from acknowledging the fact that such behaviours are part of the reason that the transformation project has gone wrong. We have to accept that most development projects are bound to have such unintended consequences. This may sound as if I am defending these kinds of behaviour. I am not. The point is that while we are bitter about these behaviours, we should address the causes and justifications for them. We should acknowledge the intricacies of our young and fragile democracy, as well as national development visions. We all want to work towards deracialisation. We also want to discourage all forms of class conflict related to tribalism and, most importantly, to poverty.

All these concerns point to one direction. The transformation project is the responsibility of every one. Blaming predatory behaviours and doing nothing will not help anyone. Denying responsibility will derail the transformation project and turn it into a monster that will take generations to defeat. We may have believed that political parties and other influential institutions are responsible for it, but poverty and crime know no political party, but the citizens. This cannot be denied. The consequences of the decisions of today will be felt largely by future generations. We have a choice to make.

We must swallow our pride and work together to make the transformation project a success; not for us, but for generations to come. It can be done.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

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