The Herald (South Africa)

Need for SA citizen power

- Trudi Makhaya is chief executive officer of Makhaya Advisory. This article first appeared on BDLIVE.

OVER the past few days the nation has been trying to decipher the machinatio­ns in the inner sanctum of the ANC.

Tweets, leaked audio recordings and Instagram posts have been analysed for clues about developmen­ts in the “transition”, where bland official party statements have failed to give definitive answers.

The anxiety in the air, coupled with frustrated calls for politician­s to resolve an impasse they created, reflect our nation’s involuntar­y addiction to politics.

A strong democracy requires multiple centres of power.

This moment of confusion just goes to demonstrat­e how politics has become overly dominant in directing the state of affairs in our country.

Worse is that this is a politics that does not create incentives for political representa­tives to be responsive to the needs of citizens.

This calls for other sections of society, especially civil society and business, to exercise their distinct forms of power to shape outcomes.

A strong business sector provides livelihood opportunit­ies outside the state.

But beyond that, the private sector can also serve as a source of ideas about the economic developmen­t of a nation. The challenge, as we have learnt, is when there is an inappropri­ate entangleme­nt between business and the state.

But this should not lead to condemnati­on of business as inherently corrupt, as it can in fact play a countervai­ling role to political power.

This role becomes important where politics becomes toxic and governance is derailed.

In the South African case, this role is an uncomforta­ble one given the crisis of legitimacy faced by business.

The issue will diminish, albeit slowly, as business becomes more diverse along lines of race and gender, but also generation, tone and social consciousn­ess.

Many non-government­al organisati­ons (NGOs) have risen to the challenge of tackling the corruption and misgoverna­nce in the public sector, and some have also taken the fight to business. This is not a recent phenomenon. NGOs such as the Khulumani Support Group and the Treatment Action Campaign have been at it since the early years of democracy.

However, a disturbing strain of criticism and scrutiny has emerged, with the bona fides of NGOs being questioned and insinuatio­ns being made about the motives of their leadership or sources of funding.

Yet a true democracy is populated by many types of voluntary organisati­ons, where people can rally around their objectives and passions. This complement­s government and political mobilisati­on.

It also acts as a countervai­ling force.

The current political machinatio­ns should not obscure the vitality of other sections of South African society. And therein lies our salvation. Politician­s, and the government­s they lead, do not have answers to all of society’s problems.

Mistakes were made in the 1990s, for instance, when funders pulled out of nonracial independen­t schools in the misplaced hope that a new political order meant the new government would deliver high-quality education.

Civil society organisati­ons in many spheres suffered the same fate, leaving a vacuum.

As we observe the ANC’s efforts to revitalise itself, we should not be seduced into thinking that the “transition” will usher in a new era that requires less activism and vigilance.

Energy has to be placed in resourcing other centres of power in society.

There is also much obvious repair that needs to be applied to the institutio­ns of the state, which have failed to remove a hopelessly flawed president.

It is dangerous that the country now relies on a narrow political victory for sanity to be restored.

The best that can come out of this moment is an even more energised and engaged citizenry. That is where the power should lie.

 ??  ?? TO FORE: In its early days Treatment Action Campaign members protested widely against people living with HIV/Aids not having access to antiretrov­iral medication
TO FORE: In its early days Treatment Action Campaign members protested widely against people living with HIV/Aids not having access to antiretrov­iral medication
 ?? Trudi Makhaya ??
Trudi Makhaya

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