Is it time for an Economic CODESA??

2015-06-18 05:50

The question of economic challenges inherited from colonial-apartheid eras, problems that continue to dog our country well after the assumed success of CODESA in bringing about democracy has caused some to call for an economic CODESA, sometimes called indaba, a convention, a lekgotla, a bosberaad or an imbizo. The Sowetan-Unisa Dialogue last week reflected quite imaginatively on this, helping us start a conversation about problem behind problems.

This was triggered by a Sowetan-Unisa dialogue on the same subject where views were ventilated that suggested that the material circumstances of the majority in SA demands an mega conversation on the structure and direction of our economy.

The calls for an Economic CODESA have come from amost every sector of South African society. Among the most prominent voices are politicians like Bantu Holomisa, the president of the United Democracy Movement who has penned open letters arguing that there is an outstanding chapter in the first CODESA, one on the transformation of the economy to reflect our aspirations to be a racially and gender equal society united in the pursuit of a prosperous ideal. For this to happen, he argues, we need a CODESA to discuss and agree on the macro-economic policy framework.

The ANC discussion on the second phase of transition being radical economic transformation gave credence to the assumption that the first transition was political and it happened. The next must be economic, a departure from the paradigm of Reconstruction and Development in the mid-1990s where freedom both political and economic simultaneously and in mix. Some like Pallo Jordan earlier seemed to suggest there mis-talking happening, a dialogue of the deaf, happening that produces even more confusion and discontent. While others see this CODESA as likely to undermine "the ANC duty to lead society."

The DA push for economic CODESA through Ken Andew in the early 2000s were amplified later by others including Raenette Taljaard who thought the post-apartheid is dogged by failure of social dialogue in summits and NEDLAC negotiations that have produced no new economic consensus.

Some in organised business want this CODESA to sort out obstacles to the pursuit of super-profit in the name of investment and employment-creation and to exorcise the economy off the devil of politics, to paraphrase Bheki Sibiya of Chamber of Mines' statement a few years ago. The taxi industry has mentioned the idea as a search for a solution to its troubles with legality, formality and audacity.

The trade union movement including COSATU see this CODESA clearing confusion on macro-economic policy in the hope for a departure from neoliberal tendencies in the direction of radical economic transformation for which a national consensus is needed. Our of this would come a "Marshall Plan for industrialisation" as part of a Lula moment of transition.

In the ntelligentsia, those like Prince Mashele sees this as meant to deal with continued white economic domination, land deprivation, unfree labour and failure of effort made by post-apartheid forces led by government including the BEE measures. Many militate against elitist control of social dialogue either by government, business, labour or the dominant white minority voice. Some want the dialogue to avoid an impending revolution.

Even Alistair Sparks of the smart Verwoerd fame or shame, foresees a CODESA that would develop a roadmap for the economy.

There is no shortage of calls for economic CODESA, but the various voices do not mean the same thing by the phrase or its variants. The idea can mean anything from open, inclusive conversations producing broad consensus to narrow negotiation-type meetings to produce a compromise.

The assumption is that CODESA one was a success in the political realm and now we need to replicate this in the economic arena, although we know that CODESA was a failure in the political in many ways including co-existence of the old and the new in a stalemated transition we continue to grapple with today. It reproduced the colonial politics tied to an inherited state with its inherent logic to dominate and to manage things on behalf of capital, empire and whiteness.

The colonial-modernity idea that the political and economic generally are different zones of life that can be dealt with in sequence or individually is sustained along the ideas of left and right ideological lines, all inherited unproblemmatically from western political thought dating back to Ancient Greece. The ideas that are found both parts of the western / colonial heritage: the liberal and Marxists; the capitalist and socialist.

This dichotomy is not a lived reality, for many of us daily walk through both simultaneously. Poverty is not only lack of money, but of opportunity to live well, think clearly and speak uninhibited. The problem we live in is not economic nor political, it straddles and radiates from both and going beyond them. The desire of the human to live, live well and live peacefully with others straddles both and the transformation of the human by colonialism messes up the whole equation. The desire of the imperial man (post-enlightenment European) who since the 15th century has desired to live while others die, to prosper while others struggle, to live in dominion over others has. He enslaved others so he could prosper; he colonised others so he could dominate and continues to despise others so he can claim his humanity. Yes, he is male in the main.

Modern systems are based on a corrupted idea of the human, one that is defined by lines between the superior and inferior, the brutalised and the thriving.

It is not by accident that black people demand recognition because they lived questioned lives to this day. It is not by accident that whiteness says move on, your present pain (colonial wound) is actually in the past, in order that it must retain its acquired privilege and power under the illusion of change under democracy. Broken fundamentals.

The idea of economic CODESA is misleading unless connected to the question: what fundamentally is the problem? What lies the issues of poverty, unemployment, inequality, corruption, crime, violence, racism, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, crass materialism, social anger and so forth.

Therefore, if we needed a dialogue at all, it would not be a CODESA (Convention for Democratic South Africa), for democracy never meant to be our destiny, but a mere milestone in a long road to freedom. The liberation struggle was not for democracy, but for liberation/freedom. This is what the late Nelson Mandela meant when he said you climb one hill on the long road to freedom and suddenly realise there are many more hills to climb. Democracy is one hill, done! We are wrong to call it freedom and consider 27 April a mark of achievement of freedom rather than a reminder that "freedom is coming tomorrow", as the Sarafina song said.

We actually need a Convention for a Free South Africa (COFRESA) to think together about how we might advance further up the road to freedom by tackling the chains on our confidence, dignity, creativity etc that lie in the nature of the human we came out of apartheid as. A COFRESA would not be a single event, but a multiplicity if open conversations happening at all levels of society, everywhere, all the time on how to rebecome batho/abantu/human beings.

For colonialism-apartheid did not just produce a broken socio-economy manifest in poverty and inequality, a broken political system in the nation state that excludes, a broken education that teaches us the west is the only source of wisdom, but it fundamentally also produced a broken human. The broken human produced racism, patriarchy, underdevelopment, a system of privilege, a system of under-privilegedness. The imperial European human produced a shamed, disparaged, confused, dislocated, wounded and trouble non-European human. You can't blame nature for the ills of the human. You can't fix problems by merely cleaning the rivers, changing economic rules or making policies alone, but you need real dialogue to fashion a new South Africa truly free from the work of the imperial man: both illusions of superiority and inferiority.

This reproduced itself in other hierarchised logics like tribalism, sexism and xenophobia.

As long as this broken human- both the assumed superior and the assumed inferior- exist in the economy, politics, culture, church and mosque etc, he/she is ill-suited for driving the aspirations we have.

With such a human, we can hardly build a new nation with shared aspirations for common destiny in a prosperous society for all.

We don't need an Economic CODESA, we need to re-imagine the very basis of our society economy included. We have to escape the trap of making democracy work when the underlying society is haunted by inhumanity.

A version is this argument was published by Sowetan Newspaper in print.

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