Ignore the ANC Policy Proposals at Your Peril

2012-06-25 21:33

It is dawning upon us as South Africa that we stand at a very critical juncture in our history and one that will surely determine what we will soon become. This is a confluence of a number of complexities that are demanding a lot more wisdom and tact from us than is generally assumed. This includes a bad crisis of operations and credibility in the global order, a complicated African situation with democracy without development and a paucity of imagination domestically.

Of course, the governing party as the custodian of our transition to a new society will have a much bigger responsibility for where we land after this period of fluidity and crises. For this reason, I dare say, none of us as South Africans can afford to watch from afar and in corners as our destiny shaped and squandered. It will be much more difficult to recover if we sink further into a national crisis.

Therefore, the debates taking place factionalism-ridden ANC this week can no longer be safely regarded as internal party matters. With the ANC holding immense political and state power the honest or foolish mistakes in their reading of the situation and what ought to be done in the coming five or more years that it makes will certainly affect us. Similarly, it analyses the environment correctly and decides wisely, we have a chance of growing towards our desired future.

The so-called internal debate has been made public for months now, courtesy of the ANC policy guru releasing draft policy documents for public inputs. It is a mistake for us, therefore, not take this opportunity to strengthen those who will counter-balance factionalism that will weaken ANC discussions and thus our pursuit of a better life. Of course, letters to the editor and comments in talkshows have helped, as have been a few academic colloquia conducted on this in the past few months.

Now, the government that belongs to all of us will use its immense power and our resources to pursue outcomes of the Midrand and Mangaung conferences. Public servants who come from all walks of life, especially those who understand the historical complexity we need to solve, owe it to the future of this country to stand up and be counted to the extent possible in enriching debates in the public interest. Their practical and technical expertise must be fed into the discussions.

Comments on specific details of this or that proposal being mooted is important, but I worry a lot more about visionary elements of the discussion. So, the concept of a second transition where it means some shift of emphasis to economic transformation is an important starting point. It can be used to excuse mediocrity today and promise utopia. It can be used to narrow the national agenda to topical issues of today. It may still be a mere cliche with no significance at all. But it may also become an opportunity to collectively imagine a better second phase of post-apartheid transition that the current one. The content of this we can shape with concrete views on the long-term vision, strategic interventions, nature of education and health care, citizen programmes etc.

Having lived through the current transition, we surely have formed ideas about what future we would like to build. It cannot be that only a few will determine this and the rest of us will wait for decisions and complain at that point. We have to decide what kind of society we desire to see in the coming two decades; how would it break from the painful past; what should drive its vibrancy; what values would underpin it; what kind of a government we want; what calibre of human capital we will need; how will we relate to it; and how will it relate with what would be a changed world order. We have to do what citizenship and leadership would be required to realise these goals. I am certain that there are many views on this and not all can be reconciled into an inclusive imagination of society, but all have got to be heard.

As for the ANC, this is the time to decide whether this is the beginning of the end of your power, which will be almost impossible to regain if lost. Social formations like organisations for slum dwellers, peasant farmers, trade unions, professional associations, faith-based groups, and so forth have to move from mere protests to imagining futures too. Opposition parties have to move from oppositionism to providing alternative visions that articulate with the general feeling of this diverse country. It is hard to imagine how this country will ever be saved by any institution, governing or opposing, in the absence of active citizenship.

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