Guest Column

Who should rebuild our institutions when even angels fall from heaven?

2019-07-28 07:21
EFF leader Julius Malema in Parliament. (Getty Images)

EFF leader Julius Malema in Parliament. (Getty Images)

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No one grouping or person should anoint themselves as the defenders of constitutionalism and those who do so should not consider themselves to be immune to criticism and interrogation, writes Rekgotsofetse Chikane.

With the coming of age of South Africa's born-free/born-into-bondage generation, we need to understand what it means to defend South Africa's institutions and the dangers of deferring this responsibility to those who seek to defend them under the guise of societal providence, when in fact, the defence appears eerily particularistic.

The manner in which we defend our institutions will undoubtedly inform how we rebuild them. The rebuilding process requires well-intentioned and trusted groupings and individuals to guide us. Thus, it's vitally important to understand that even the most well-intentioned angels, who believe they are incapable of being sacrilegious, can fall from heaven when tempted, not only endangering the entire project, but hijacking it for their personal benefit.

There has been a systematic attack on South Africa's institutions since the middle of the 2000s. It has often focused, not on stealing for the sake of stealing, but on enabling a parasitic-esque extraction of the state's resources in a manner meant to normalise and institutionalise rent-seeking behaviour.

From failed attempts to bring finality to the arms deal investigation; the dismantling of the National Prosecuting Authority's internal checks and balances; the reconfiguration of the Scorpions into the Hawks; and attacks on press freedom; to the growing acceptance and comfort with the toothless nature of our Chapter 9 institutions; the infantilising of state-owned entities into personal play toys; the removal of the policy unit in the Presidency; the creation and subsequent ignoring of the National Development Plan; the use of Parliament to actively defend the indefensible; and innumerable qualified audits across innumerable organs of state.

Though this list is extensive, it is far from exhaustive. The act of capture was a delimited process that was planned and coordinated, which as a result, created a self-perpetuating and self-actualising ecosystem of state-sanctioned maleficence driven by a patronage turned prebendal system of governance.

As a generation, we grew up in a post-1994 South Africa in which we watched our parents allow others to dismantle the institutions that they fought for. While we went about learning long division, our country was being looted with little to no defence from our parents. Harsh as it may seem, it is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in.

Since the turn of the century, South Africa's institutions have been actively taken apart by those who sought to test the limits of our democratic checks and balances. Thus, there is frankly a desperate need to strengthen these checks and balances to ensure that any institutional rebuilding process succeeds. We can't simply rebuild the institutions of old in the same mould and expect different results.

Understanding this creates the environment for the tolerance turned into implicit acceptance of the Economic Freedom Fighters' (EFF) current political modus operandi. The arrival of the EFF in Parliament in 2014 created a mode of politics designed to actively defend the country's institutions in which corruption had been normalised. The EFF became less concerned with maintaining the illusion of normalcy and focused on the politics of disruption. It was disruption that focused less on how to defend institutions within the confines of Parliament, but on the act of defence to change the confines of Parliament.

For the born-free/born-into-bondage generation, the manner of their defence was of less importance, albeit interesting, when compared to the actual act of defending. It was an act we grew up not truly witnessing ourselves.

For almost two decades the one organ of state specifically designed to hold the executive wing of government accountable, the Parliament of South Africa – excluding the work of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts – allowed not only the infiltration of the graft within the state but actively encouraged it. Thus, having a party such as the EFF, in all its brashness, seek to change the modus operandi of Parliament, became not only a breath of fresh air but our first gasp of air as a generation drowning in the sins of our parents.

However, as we become older and more capable of protecting the state ourselves due to our increased access to economic and social capital, there is a need to interrogate and exercise a level of introspection about the way we defend our institutions and the consequences of our defensive posture. Though it cannot be denied that the EFF saved us from falling over a cliff, this by no means implies that we, as the youth, have appointed them as our de facto protectors of the state; our political guardian angels.

The way we defend our institutions when they are under attack now will inform how we will have to rebuild them in the future. Both acts inform each other, and we must be aware of this fact if we wish to ensure the graft of the past 15-20 years is not repeated, or even worse, allowed to grow.

As a result, it has become vitally important to interrogate how the EFF seeks to defend institutions such as the Public Protector but simultaneously interrogate their subsequent attacks on Minister Pravin Gordhan, press freedom, women in the media, and the manner in which it handles allegations of corruption laid against their own members.

Prescribing a set of politics to someone is always a difficult task, especially when ideological differences take a front and centre role. However, our inability to find common ground on our politics of engagement will then require us to find a means of challenging the politics of unearned and unmandated irreproachable belief in one's political acts. This is a belief the EFF seems to hold close to the heart. Thus, to hold them accountable requires an exercise that one would rather do without but must undertake if required.

There is no one-size-fits-all defence of institutions and we, as a generation, must become comfortable with this notion. It can come in a variety of forms, but we must interrogate our methods. Do we wish to defend our institutions whilst denouncing press freedom by using the term Stratcom to invalidate opposing views within the media? Should we trust an organisation that uses physical intimidation against those they disagree with to be the guardians of our new democratic discourse? The key to defending our institutions is to avoid allowing one person or group to control the narrative of what defence means or looks like.

My contention with the EFF is not informed by some form an inherent distrust of the party or an exercise to undermine the work they do. My contention lies at the heart of what it truly means to be part of the born-free/born-into-bondage generation that finds itself fighting for its future: the fight to control the ideology that drives the necessary changes to the institutions of South Africa.

No one grouping or person should anoint themselves as the defenders of constitutionalism and those who do so should not consider themselves to be immune to criticism and interrogation.

The defence of our institutions requires a coordinated effort of compromise that is informed by the nuances in our various approaches. Our potential agreement on the EFF's stance on Pravin Gordhan's positioned in relation to the Public Protector shouldn't require an implicit belief that we agree with their attacks on him, the institution of press freedom in South Africa or preclude them from being held accountable for allegations of corruption.

It also doesn't necessitate the creation of an enemy out of obvious allies because we disagree on our approaches.

Though the born-free/born-into-bondage generation will undoubtedly view the EFF as the party that stood as the first line of defence against the theft of the country, this shouldn't automatically lead to the belief that we equally see them as the first in line to restructure our institutions. That role must remain contested lest we fall into the same trap of letting one group dictate and design a system of democracy that only serves the interests of those who designed it.

- Rekgotsofetse 'Kgotsi' Chikane is the author of Breaking a Rainbow, Building a Nation.

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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