By Dumisani Tembe

South Africa’s major limitation is the preoccupation with events rather than developmental vision, and the means to attain such vision. There is so much preoccupation with events, and individuals such that the crucial phenomenon of long-term planning, and goals, is privatized as the preserve of the individual, and the family.

In the absence of the overarching quest for society’s collective wellbeing, the individual is left to fend for oneself, and one’s family, by all means necessary. This, will include theft, and the murder of fellow human beings, as Bob Marley observed: “…when you go to get some food, your brother becomes your enemy”.  It is this lack of an observable collective pursuit of a greater good, that leads to the attractiveness of corruption.

When the collective consciousness of society is not cultivated, individual greed assumes the center stage and individuals revert to survivalist mode. In the South African society, this manifests itself in three pathways: the beneficiaries of apartheid will do all they can to preserve their historically ill gains; those who by the virtue of being in political positions of authority have access to resources, seek to accumulate more both because of greed, and also for self-preservation; the have-nots remain in the periphery, living in the false consciousness of hope mostly fed to them by the new quasi rulers – the  black political elite. 

South Africa’s status as an events preoccupied society, maybe a consequence of several factors: it may be a manifestation of a deliberate plan by apartheid intellectuals to redefine the control of apartheid political economy such that blacks are refocused to contesting the political space, whilst the apartheid economic patterns, remain intact; it could be a  result of poor leadership; it may well be an outcome of  demobilized socio-economic activism after 1994 by the then emerging political elite from the liberation movement-turned government; it may be a product of a capital monopoly embedded  media; it maybe a product of an education system that’s geared to sustain the status quo rather than transformation;  or perhaps, a combination of all these, and even more. Whatever the source is, the grand result is developmental stagnation, with dangerous social ills both in the current, and future.

Political actors, and the media are the main theatre where South Africa’s event limitation syndrome is primarily driven, and reinforced. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is a key actor in this limitation for several reasons. The main reason is that it is the ruling party. Or, as its president, Cyril Ramaphosa would say – “the governing party”.

Since the ANC has assumed the management of state budgets, it has become a leadership revolving door political party. Nothing else dominates the internal politics of the ruling party than which leader is coming in, or going out. Even some of its would be powerful conference resolution, are now crafted to give effect on who stays, or leaves leadership positions. Two crucial Nasrec Resolutions, play themselves in this regard: the land expropriation without compensation; and the now infamous “step-aside” resolutions. The former is considered a crucial weapon against ANC’s leader, Ramaphosa; whilst the latter is a useful gun to deal with the ANC’s Secretary General, Ace Magashule. In essence, what dominates the discourse about the ruling party, is whether Ramaphosa will be recalled; or Magashule will be suspended, both in the near future. The support for these policy positions is not necessarily about what the possible change these policies might bring, but more about how they can be used to remove the other faction.

This means, society is constantly geared to think of the ANC’s top six meetings; the National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings – probably now dominated by what will happen to Ace Magashule after thirty days from the last NEC meeting with regard to the “step-aside” resolution; and what will happen to Ramaphosa at the next National General Council (NGC). All these events, have no bearing on the national development agenda and discourse of the country. They are merely the shortcomings of the internal politics of the ANC. Then there is also the “January 8 Statement” event that lacks a developmental context and direction to society.  Whenever it happens, lately, the preoccupation is where it is taking place, and whose faction stands to benefit from that particular event. 

Similarly, the “State Capture” Inquiry, is a big event with sub-events which the ruling party has created to deal with its own internal political disciplinary issues through a quasi-judicial process. As one colleague says, the ruling party has outsourced the disciplinary management of ill discipline from its ranks, under the guise of dealing with governance issues within the state apparatus. Fact is, ill-discipline within the ruling party inherently gets manifested within the state the ruling party governs. Therefore, unless the ruling party evolves to be a very cohesive party internally, with strong bonds of internal discipline, and with the capacity to deal with ill discipline effectively, Inquiries such as state capture commission are nothing short of extended events.

In a normal society, political events that dominate national discourse would not be a problem. But there is a problem when political squabbles within the ruling party in an unequal society that requires a strong drive to transform the disparity in economic pattens of inequality and exclusion dominate national discourse. In essence, this means there is no developmental discourse. It means addressing apartheid socio-economic patterns is not in the uppermost national consciousness of society. If the national development consciousness of society is not in the core of national discourse, it means there is a leadership vacuum. That is, there is no leader of society.

Here lies in the fundamental problem for South Africa: political leadership is the fundamental base of the evolution, growth, and prosperity of societies. All societies that have experienced growth, and sustainability, have done so driven by an astute political leadership. More than any other form of leadership, political leadership is the apex leadership with the authority and legitimacy to coalesce all sectors of society into a particular development trajectory. This requires a political leadership that has substantive power, is disciplined, and bears a strong will to serve society.

That is, the political center must be solid. Here lies South Africa’s politics of development stagnation. The ruling political center is weak. It is highly dominated by the “what’s in it for me” syndrome, than a united development agenda. The leadership of the ruling center is more concerned about its own internal survival in the leadership echelons of the party, than a developmental agenda. In the process, it is events of coups and counter coups within the ruling party that dominates its own internal politics. As these become more pronounced within the governing party, they permeate and dominate public spaces. Hence, party squabbles become Judge Zondo’s burden.

The sum total of all this, is that South Africa is stuck in developmental stagnation. The aspiring black elite will continue to seek a space at the table of the haves. It is the survival of the connected.  Meanwhile, the marginalized black majority will continue to live in the margins of socio-economic spaces of South Africa. The once liberation political leadership will continue to feed the masses liberation rhetoric, as it seeks re-election every five years. This it will do both within the party’s elections, and state elections.

So it will be event after event. The media will do its part: regurgitate news around these events. It will  pick sides with political contestants and generate both positive and negative  public opinions around individuals it prefers, and those it dislikes, respectively. In a very disguised manner, it will campaign, and de-campaign preferred and disliked candidates, respectively.

Political analysts will be called upon to “analyse politics”, which in real terms, it will be a reflection of political events and political personalities.

And so, South Africa will keep crawling from one event to another. Stuck with the umbilical cord, and labour pains that refuse to go away, after birth – simply because the political midwives, are stuck in the leadership revolving hospital door. Not that the hospital door is broken, but they are blocking it. Sooner or later, the whole hospital will collapse!

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