Tuesday, January 14, 2014

South Africa: Wanted - South Africa's next generation of political titans

Source: ISS

Wanted: South Africa's next generation of political titans

In an interview following the passing of Nelson Mandela, former president Thabo Mbeki posed the question that, ‘surely’ it must be possible for another generation to rise again in a liberated South Africa and propel the country forward? This he said while musing on the ‘Mandela generation’ of anti-apartheid figures, whom he described as ‘titans of our struggle.’

Indeed, to progress, South Africa will require leaders of integrity who are ethical, principled and committed to advancing the ideals espoused in the Constitution. This will be key if the country is to live up to the example set by the Mandela generation. Furthermore, for the National Development Plan (NDP) to achieve any level of success will require competent public sector leadership that would put in place robust and independent mechanisms to tackle any form of fraud and malfeasance. The scourge of corruption will not only derail the realisation of the ideals of prosperity, integrity, fairness as espoused by the country’s great anti-apartheid ‘titans’ but also the attainment of the NDP’s goals.

Soon, political parties will make a plethora of promises to the electorate on how they will tackle unemployment, poverty and inequality, and work to ensure that all South Africans have better access to basic services such as water, sanitation and housing. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) will promote its liberation credentials and its post-1994 achievements, such as rolling out education and basic services to the previously disadvantaged. The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is likely to attack the ANC on its failures in relation to reducing unemployment and growing corruption, and will attempt to convince the electorate that it can do a better job and run a clean government.

The ANC will attack the DA on some of its failures in the Western Cape – the sanitation debacle being a case in point – and accuse the DA of remaining a predominantly white party that lacks a grasp of the realities of the majority of South Africans.

Parties such as Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will stridently push their populist and radical rhetoric on the need for economic transformation through the nationalisation of mineral wealth and land without compensation. Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang SA will argue that poor economic leadership, the mismanagement of key sectors such as health and education and public sector corruption have derailed the ideals of the struggle, and that they will lead South Africa out of this state of affairs. Other opposition parties are similarly likely to focus their attacks on both the ANC and the DA as they scramble for undecided voters to keep their seats in parliament.

The problem with the political system in South Africa is that it privileges the political elite within the various political parties at the expense of the voters. Often, these elites jostle for positions in their respective parties and are therefore more loyal to their party or particular factions therein than to the broader electorate. In such a situation, it is unlikely that the new ‘titans’ who South Africa so urgently requires will emerge from within the current system.

Indeed, the vital task of ensuring that a new crop of leaders emerges needs to come from within the broader society and be rooted in the understanding that a new and inclusive approach is needed to solve the country’s pressing problems.

In a televised interview in late 2013, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe emphasised that the late Nelson Mandela was a product of the broader movement involving all those South Africans fighting against oppression. Mandela himself, on his release from prison, thanked the people of South Africa for his freedom and for being key actors in enabling him to emerge as one of the leaders of the movement. Indeed, it was because of the active participation of South Africans that liberation was possible and that a generation of ethical leadership emerged to ensure a fairer political dispensation.

In 2014, the people of South Africa have a key role to play in ensuring that the country’s leadership in all sectors of society are held accountable. A good first step is actively working towards ensuring that all acts of corruption and malfeasance, whether committed in the public, private or civil society sectors are reported, shamed and where possible prosecuted. It is critical to send a loud and clear message to the country’s leadership across all sectors that South Africans are prepared to confront corruption. Conversely, those in positions of leadership need to go beyond the rhetoric, and ensure that all cases of alleged corruption and malfeasance in their specific realm of influence are transparently and fairly dealt with. There is a real need to stop the protection of corrupt individuals because of their positions of power and influence.

There isn’t a more fitting tribute that the people of South Africa can make to the legacy of Mandela and other ‘titans’ of the struggle than to curb corruption in the country. Public sector corruption diverts much-needed resources into the pockets of the elite. It continues to enrich the rich and further impoverishes the poor. It cannot be right for millions of South Africans to continue living in poverty without access to basic services; particularly considering a total of R30.8 billion in unauthorised‚ irregular and wasteful expenditure was incurred in the 2012/2013 financial year, according to the auditor-general’s November 2013 report.

A new generation of leaders will need to rise from among South Africans to carry the country forward, and this generation needs to be committed to the values of transparency, integrity and accountability. For this to become a reality will require genuine commitment and robust action that goes beyond the rhetoric.

Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, Researcher, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria