For the elite, by the elite

Poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion over the past 23 years have only served to deepen and en­trench poverty and in­equal­ity among the masses

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Christopher Rut­ledge voices@ city­press. co. za

Stand­ing in the glare of a me­dia con­tin­gent that al­most over­shad­owed the col­lected del­e­gates to the #Oper­a­tionRe­cap­ture con­fer­ence, Sipho Pityana, the leader of the Save SA or­gan­i­sa­tion and a cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive, breathed fire as he called on all South Africans to stand up to the evil force of cor­rup­tion. He noted that mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (MPs) would be asked to vote on Au­gust 8 and that this con­fer­ence would have to come up with strate­gies to pres­sure MPs into vot­ing in the in­ter­est of the peo­ple of South Africa.

He spoke of how the con­fer­ence would have to break the nexus be­tween big busi­ness and politi­cians in or­der to over­come the cor­rup­tion that was now ap­par­ently so in­her­ent in the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion. Although we are from dif­fer­ent ide­o­log­i­cal and ma­te­rial back­grounds, he shouted from the podium, we needed to make com­mon cause in or­der to en­sure that we re­de­fine power re­la­tion­ships and that we build peo­ple’s power to ad­vance the peo­ple’s agenda.

This is why his liv­ing mantra that puts him to bed every day is, “Zuma must go!”

Won­der­ful stuff! And the gath­ered del­e­gates ate it up, like manna from heaven. This was what they had come to hear.

The Save SA group­ing, led quite ob­vi­ously by those who have ac­cess to vast re­sources – as ev­i­denced by the glossy fold­ers and ex­ten­sive printed ma­te­ri­als and cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship – had spun a nar­ra­tive to the me­dia and the pub­lic that our democ­racy was un­der threat. As South African cit­i­zens, deeply con­cerned by the nar­ra­tive of bla­tant state cor­rup­tion and the Gup­tari­sa­tion of the ANC, it is hard to dis­agree with this con­cern. It is real and im­me­di­ate.

While the im­me­di­ate threat is cer­tainly ev­i­dent, the com­mon cause Pityana al­ludes to is un­for­tu­nately not that ev­i­dent.

De­spite – or maybe even be­cause of – the re­sound­ing pop­ulist rhetor­i­cal flow of the open­ing ad­dresses, the un­der­ly­ing in­tegrity of the call by Pityana and oth­ers at the con­fer­ence for a com­mon cause was un­der­mined by an event that had gone al­most un­no­ticed in the South African me­dia.

In April this year, the Par­lia­men­tary Mon­i­tor­ing Group re­leased the re­sults of a sur­vey it had un­der­taken among in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions who had par­tic­i­pated in par­lia­men­tary pro­cesses.

Among a host of red flags and in­di­ca­tors of demo­cratic de­cay, the sur­vey found that, while “pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion is at the heart of the work of Par­lia­ment” and while “South Africa oc­cu­pies a unique po­si­tion in that pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion is con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­trenched”, the South African Par­lia­ment, be­tween 2014 and 2015, dur­ing which time the port­fo­lio com­mit­tees met a to­tal of 1 134 times, had heard sub­mis­sions from the pub­lic in only 39 meet­ings or 3% of the time. In short, what we be­lieve to be our glo­ri­ous democ­racy is in fact a shadow of what it was en­vis­aged to be in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Pityana was there­fore call­ing on us to de­fend our dy­ing democ­racy by sup­port­ing the old elite against the new elite, the very same con­di­tion that got us to this point in the first place.

Of more con­cern, the sur­vey pointed to a trend of elite con­trol of our democ­racy and ref­er­enced other sur­veys, such as the one con­ducted by the Dul­lah Omar In­sti­tute – Not in the House; The Ex­tent of and Re­spon­sive­ness to Pub­lic In­put in South Africa’s Leg­is­la­tures 2009 to 2015 – which had pre­vi­ously pointed out the dan­ger of the “shift away” from par­tic­i­pa­tory pro­cesses and warned that “as the ANC ma­jor­ity is grad­u­ally eroded and con­tes­ta­tion within Par­lia­ment in­creases, the com­mit­tees show greater re­sis­tance to crit­i­cal civil so­ci­ety in­put”.

Of yet greater con­cern than the de­nial of cit­i­zens’ rights to par­tic­i­pate and the ex­clu­sion of or­di­nary cit­i­zens from the pro­cesses of demo­cratic de­ci­sion mak­ing and over­sight of the ex­ec­u­tive, is the nar­row­ing of those who are able to en­gage with and in Par­lia­ment. In other words, Par­lia­ment has be­come a small elite en­gag­ing with an­other small elite to de­cide our col­lec­tive fu­tures.

The sur­vey found that a re­mark­ably small group of or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als ap­pear to be able to ac­cess par­lia­men­tary pro­cesses on a reg­u­lar ba­sis with a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of those ad­vo­cat­ing to Par­lia­ment em­a­nat­ing from the busi­ness sec­tor. Even among this small group of con­sis­tent par­tic­i­pants (a to­tal of 177 or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als in 2014 and 2015), they pointed out that par­tic­i­pa­tion was ham­strung by a range of fac­tors. The sur­vey re­spon­dents in­di­cated that “the core prob­lem with lack of funds, re­sources and ca­pac­ity is that the pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion space in Par­lia­ment be­comes ex­clu­sive to the well-re­sourced, funded and ca­pac­i­tated”.

Re­cently I wrote about the Min­eral and Petroleum Re­sources De­vel­op­ment Amend­ment (MPRDA) Bill and the dif­fi­culty of par­tic­i­pa­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by af­fected com­mu­ni­ties. If those who are most di­rectly af­fected by leg­is­la­tion do not have the op­por­tu­nity to de­cide on their own fu­tures, then dic­ta­tor­ship rather than democ­racy is a much more apt de­scrip­tion. In our own sur­veys, con­ducted in over 100 af­fected com­mu­ni­ties and in­ter­view­ing 565 re­spon­dents, we found that 88% did not know what the MPRDA leg­is­la­tion en­tailed and 79% felt that the cur­rent leg­is­la­tion was not fair to com­mu­ni­ties in gen­eral.

The fact that our me­dia (with the sole ex­cep­tion of one cyn­i­cal re­port by the Mail & Guardian) and or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Save SA con­tinue to cham­pion an agenda that sug­gests our democ­racy is un­der threat (yet ig­nores a very real and im­ma­nent threat to our democ­racy) raises deep ques­tions of mo­tive, ob­jec­tives and shared val­ues.

One ar­gu­ment about the cur­rent bout of state cap­ture anx­i­ety is, to para­phrase Steven Fried­man, not that an elite con­trols the so­ci­ety, but that the wrong elite does. This was echoed by Peter Richer, a mem­ber of the in­fa­mous SA Rev­enue Ser­vice “rogue unit”, who warned dur­ing his talk at the con­fer­ence that large cor­po­rate busi­nesses, such as the to­bacco in­dus­try, has for some time now been creep­ing deeper and deeper into the state struc­tures and that the Gup­tas were just small play­ers in the big­ger scheme of things.

The Marikana sup­port cam­paign also re­minds us that the mas­sacre at Marikana “can ac­cu­rately be de­scribed as the most brazen in­ci­dent where cor­po­rate power was used to cap­ture the state”; yet, most of the cur­rent voices de­nounc­ing state cap­ture were silent then.

Even Angli­can Arch­bishop of Cape Town Thabo Mak­goba, in his mes­sage to del­e­gates at the con­fer­ence, in­ad­ver­tently qual­i­fied his re­jec­tion of cor­rup­tion and pa­tron­age as be­ing re­served for those “un­der this ad­min­is­tra­tion”.

I am sure this is not what he meant, but the broad so­ci­etal blind spot is ev­i­dent in this in­no­cent com­ment.

Our pub­lic dis­course is pep­pered with grand-sound­ing rhetor­i­cal al­lu­sions to pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion and peo­ple’s power, but in re­al­ity our me­dia and civil so­ci­ety lead­ers are not pre­pared to face up to the fact that our so­ci­ety is run by the elite, for the elite.

This is in no small mea­sure why we were able to adopt poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion over the past 23 years that have not only served to deepen and en­trench poverty and in­equal­ity among the masses, but have also al­lowed cor­rup­tion and pa­tron­age to emerge as a real so­cial force.

In short, a so­ci­ety where pri­vate in­ter­ests dom­i­nate pub­lic ones.

How then will our so­ci­ety be able to tackle the scourge of cor­rup­tion and pa­tron­age if we are not able to ac­cept its true cause… A democ­racy for the elite, by the elite.

Our democ­racy is in ter­mi­nal de­cline while the elites squabble over the spoils of the state, and so it is left to us to rage against the dy­ing of the light.

Rut­ledge is the nat­u­ral re­sources man­ager for Ac­tionAid SA, a mem­ber of a global move­ment of peo­ple working to­gether to

fur­ther hu­man rights and erad­i­cate poverty

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PHOTO: GALLO IM­AGES / THE HER­ALD / BRIAN WITBOOI

IN A MANNA OF SPEAK­ING A crowd lis­tens as Save SA South Africa leader Sipho Pityana ad­dresses them out­side the Port Elizabeth city hall in April this year

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