Guest Column

The rise of disruption politics and radical social entrepreneurship

2017-07-13 08:00
YOUTH POWER Busi Seabe of the Wits #FeesMustFall movement. Picture: Leon Sadiki

YOUTH POWER Busi Seabe of the Wits #FeesMustFall movement. Picture: Leon Sadiki

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Sikhulekile Duma 

Hundreds of years of dispossession, oppression, and necessary resistance have formed the normalised madness we have come to call ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa. This madness finds expression in all aspects of everyday life. 

It finds its greatest expression in the dehumanising poverty of a great number of our people. It finds expression in the human rights violations we call informal settlements. It finds expression in our crippling youth unemployment rate. It finds expression in an untransformed economy that might as well be called the “white boys club” and it also finds expression in rising levels of gender based violence. 

The real question then becomes why has South Africa struggled to transform itself? There are several answers; most of them complex and multilayered.

In my opinion, South Africa has failed to transform itself because the systems that perpetuated oppression and inequality remain intact today. What is being referred to by “systems” is the set of interactions and relationships between individuals, groupings and institutions that constitutes a formalised and structured whole; good examples are organisations, societies and even patriarchy. 

These systems which are characterised as violent, exclusionary and authoritarian have created institutions and cultures that mimic these characteristics. These systems found root and most blatant expression in both the colonial and apartheid eras. The security apparatus built during apartheid and which still lurks in darkness today is an example of such a system. 

In post-apartheid South Africa, while the face of people in government has changed, these systems persist often revealing themselves through police brutality and rampant looting. Inevitably incidents and crises like Marikana and state capture will continue, with greater frequency, if we leave these systems intact.  

Young people, through various means, have begun to understand this. Young people the world over are more skeptical of dominant economic theories and political orders that have brought little improvement to their lives. The world finds itself at a crossroads and many have expressed their frustrations through populism and various new forms of politics. 

This is true for South Africa: the politics of disruption has become the norm as young people have come to understand that oppressive systems cannot be negotiated away but rather dismantled. 

Young people want a fair and equal world, and dare I say a new world; a break away from the old. However, there is also an understanding, like never before, that to break away from the old is to confront the old and destroy it head on.  

Disruption politics has found popular expression through movements such as #FeesMustFall but it is important to remember that disruption politics are the everyday politics of poor people in this country who have for years been demanding the delivery of better services. 

These people may not be able to theorise this emerging leftist politics but one thing is sure, it starts with them. 

Disruption politics is not only about dismantling systems but at its very basic, it’s about being heard. In the madness that is our contemporary society so many are not heard, their pleas silenced by the middle and upper classes. Disruption politics has become the voice of those trapped in our country’s most impoverished and neglected areas. 

As much as the origin of disruptive politics is in the service delivery strikes, it has been adapted by students and young people all over South Africa. Some of these disruptions have manifested themselves in the physical sense and others in the psychological. The politics of young South Africans are indeed entrepreneurial, groundbreaking and in the process of being shaped into a viable movement for change.

The effectiveness of disruptive politics depends on its ability to surprise and frustrate the system which it seeks to dismantle. If the politics and its subsequent praxis is predictable and stagnant then the system can easily adapt and move on. In order to constantly alarm and challenge the system, people involved in disruptive politics must continually innovate and be radically entrepreneurial in their activism.

What this means is that even though these politics are collective in nature it does often require individuals to be daring enough to constantly push the envelope; it needs sparks of brilliance, which can only come about from a diverse group of individuals working as a collective.  

It’s however not enough to just disrupt the system, alternative systems and orders must be conceptualised and implemented by young people. The new must replace the old. A possible route is radical social entrepreneurship. 

We often think of entrepreneurship as a term that is linked to capitalism, however with the rise of social entrepreneurship we are beginning to witness a delinking of one from the other. 

Entrepreneurship has always been about innovation and risk taking, social entrepreneurship incorporates this to solve social and environmental issues. Social entrepreneurship is therefore a tool that attempts to solve the many inequalities caused by run-away capitalism. 

If we are to expand on the term ‘social entrepreneurship’, it is possible to see contemporary movements and the individuals involved as radical social entrepreneurs. This form of entrepreneurship is disruptive in nature as it challenges and seeks to destroy a profit-driven and exploitative system that has deeply entrenched itself.  

However, as disruptive as it is, it does go further than disruptive politics in that it begins to imagine and implement alternatives. One cannot begin to think of alternatives without an innovative mind, and likewise it becomes impossible to implement these alternatives without risk-taking. 

We have already begun to see examples radical social entrepreneurship; these examples include the countless students and allies across South Africa who are conceptualising an alternative higher education system. Other examples include people in developing cities who through innovation and love for their communities; have developed community-owned alternative services that cater for communities neglected by governments. 

Its thus easy to see the parallels between disruptive politics and radical social entrepreneurship. The two forms of praxis require innovation and risk-taking to be most effective. I would further argue that the two complement each other, in that while disruptive politics destroys the old, radical social entrepreneurship builds the new. The two are essential tools in solving the madness that is our society. 

- Sikhulekile Duma is a post-graduate student in Sustainable Development. He is a former student activist with an interest in South African Politics. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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