Why does South Africa need a broad civil society movement led by faith leaders on the socio-economic future of the country when we have a democratically elected government? Why does the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, have to step outside his pulpit and convene discussions about economic policy and jobs, social cohesion and the state of the nation?

Perhaps, because a democracy is a system where power vests in the hands of the people and continues to do so while their representatives, elected officials work to serve the interests of the nation. The power of the citizenry is ceded to the governing powers only to the extent that their proper use of power sustains their legitimacy to rule.

The state of our state
Are we on the brink of a failed state veteran opposition politician Alex Boraine asked in 2014. “How long will South Africa survive? “ RW Johnson opined in 2015. South Africa is being relegated to a junk country said Julius Malema during the post-Sona debate, blaming the president. Such public anxiety by prominent voices of yesteryear and of the emerging voices of tomorrow do get the nation talking, but how much substance is there to these fears and talk of doom? Clem Sunter, our own home-grown guru of scenario planning, states emphatically that we are in a state of “slow decline” while President Jacob Zuma says South Africans “overreacted” to the firing of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. R500 billion over-reactions!

The question is — can the rule of law be sustained amid the levels of crime and violent public protest we are beginning to witness? Can the institutions of the state address our economic malaise rapidly enough to ensure that the centre holds? How much patience is left in the system?

Good governance, not more government
The rot starts from the head, and in our case the healing needs to start in the heart.

If government alone could fix SA, the archbishop’s social initiative would not be needed
South Africa’s problems are intractable — long drawn-out challenges that will require decades of concerted effort to fix. Stagnation, broken education, social and human deprivation … these will require resources, over and above taxes Mr Pravin Gordhan, ingenuity, over and above an entrepreneurial business class Mr Sunter. It will require the consistent and concerted efforts of civil society, over and above government Mr Malema, to add their weight in the push for a sustainable social order. It will require a mass movement of social reconstruction. In the words of our beloved Nelson Mandela, it will require “the reconstruction and development programme of the heart”.

If there is use for this new movement led by Makgoba and he’s fellow statesmen and stateswoman, it must surely be to mobilise the hearts and minds and importantly the hands, of all South Africans to get stuck into something that would resemble the local and grassroots implementation of our National Development Plan. For our country to thrive, government will have to master the learning curve of participatory democracy.

The danger of the recent power shift to Gordhan, is that it feeds the South African delusion that a single leader can save our country. We don’t need another hero, we need transformation of our patchwork society into a society where children go to decent schools, where young men and women have career prospects instead of babies, where the elderly can sleep peacefully in their beds and die in dignity instead of violence.

Image - JD Hancock/flickr/CC BY
Image – JD Hancock/flickr/CC BY

Perhaps 2016 will be remembered as the year when South Africans went to work themselves on finding solutions to their own problems — solutions by the people for the people.


Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen is a faculty member and researcher at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics, and heads up the Future of Business in SA Project. He is passionate...

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