Making a co-operative government work in SA: Terence Corrigan - Biznews

Jun 17, 2024
Last month’s election delivered South Africa to a vastly different reality from what had existed before. Between this writing and your reading, the circumstances may again be vastly different – at the very least, we’ll have some insight into the texture of a future government, as a new President will have been elected (or an attempt made to do that, at any rate).
Making a co-operative government work in SA: Terence Corrigan - Biznews

Last month’s election in South Africa marked a profound shift, demanding unprecedented cooperation among historically adversarial political factions. Trust, bolstered by expert-led governance and pragmatic ideological adaptation, emerges as crucial for a viable future. Amidst deep-rooted challenges, forging unity around shared values offers a precarious yet hopeful path forward.

Terence Corrigan

Last month’s election delivered South Africa to a vastly different reality from what had existed before. Between this writing and your reading, the circumstances may again be vastly different – at the very least, we’ll have some insight into the texture of a future government, as a new President will have been elected (or an attempt made to do that, at any rate).

And maybe this column will have been superseded anyway.

Whatever happens, the country’s future will be one that demands co-operation between political groupings that have hitherto been at seemingly irreconcilable odds with one another, and which enter this phase of history with very little mutual trust.

Still, South Africa’s people and political factions remain locked in what has been termed ‘fatal intimacy’, an often-reluctant co-dependence on one another. The dominance of the ANC has held off the need to accommodate this in the country’s politics, but co-operation is now a reality that cannot be deferred any longer.

Getting it right, and getting it right in a manner that gives the country a chance at a worthwhile future, will demand three things.

The first is creating durable trust. It needn’t be based on agreement, at least initially: merely an ability to take one’s interlocutors at their word. This is a commodity in short supply – even the election’s attempt at an alliance among fairly like-minded groups, the Multi-Party Charter, was marred by regular recriminations. Trust across the aisle, between, say, the DA and ANC is pretty much non-existent. And it is essentially between the latter two parties that some sort of agreement would need to be concluded.

Let’s not get into the reasons for this distrust right now; it suffices to say that a relationship conceived in suspicion will not be conducive to co-operation. Co-operation will need to proceed from a more basic collaboration. For this reason, a coalition between the DA and ANC would be premature, and a looser confidence and supply agreement would be preferable. The DA would guarantee the ANC’s incumbency from no-confidence motions, and the ANC would agree not to align with the EFF and MK.

This would give the two parties an opportunity to establish, tentatively, a modus vivendi for working together. At first, a frosty coalescence against the MK and EFF, and nothing more. Some months later, perhaps cooperation on something relatively uncontentious such as Operation Vulindlela. Down the road, matters of greater importance could be placed on the agenda.

The second issue concerns expertise. There’s no dispute that governance in South Africa is in a state of deep crisis. The National Planning Commission has referred to the ‘rejection of meritocracy’. Even the government talks of the need to ‘professionalise’ the public service, a choice of words expressing an awful indictment of what has taken place over the past three decades.

The President is entitled to appoint two members of cabinet from outside Parliament. This should be done in the coming cabinet, with one or both members appointed to key economic portfolios, including finance. The members would be well-respected experts, able to speak with authority to all role players, and especially those involved in the governing arrangement. To secure the confidence of local and global markets would be an inestimable asset to the country at this time. The experts’ role would be to drive a growth agenda: a condition on which South Africa’s future depends.

The precedent here is the appointment of Chris Liebenberg as finance minister under President Nelson Mandela. Not only would the experts be expected to model a new technocratic and growth-focused approach to governance, but they would play an important role in building consensus among South Africa’s political and economic stakeholders. They would carry a weighty responsibility, and whether it is all possible would depend on the willingness of the politicians to cooperate in this plan.

The third issue is that of ideology. Ideology has been the underlying driver of South African politics since the transition. This has not generally been for the country’s benefit, as Anthea Jeffery has discussed at length in her work on the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution.

South Africa’s malaise owes a great deal to the ANC’s ideological outlook. The ANC has a sense of itself as the ordained ruler of South Africa, with its consequently ambivalent attitude to constitutionalism, its view of opponents as enemies, and a frequent hostility to policy that would dilute or relinquish state control (even as the state has failed to function effectively).

A future that adapts to the country’s new realities and that positions it for growth means that political power brokers – and no one more than the ANC, remaining for now the largest party – must embrace the imperative of compromise and collaboration. It also requires conscious choices for constitutionalism and rational economic management to be made. As a dominant political force, the ANC could avoid this, trimming its position according to the prevailing circumstances. It used to be a proponent of revolution and also of constitutional government. As a recent Politicsweb editorial commented, this is no longer possible. The ANC must choose what it believes in, and what it will defend.

Part of this would involve shedding the dogmatists within the ANC’s orbit; most obviously, it would mean discarding its archaic alliance with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Neither of these formations view the country’s constitutional order as more than an encumbrance to be dispensed with in due course; neither can offer much to promote growth.

Unionism is a legitimate – indeed, an important – facet of democratic life, but the conduct of the ANC’s allies has often been defending the most obstructive and destructive impulses bedeviling South Africa. Think about the capture of provincial education departments by Cosatu’s educational affiliate, as South Africa’s children fail to read for meaning or to calculate accurately.

One hastens to add that all this does not suggest creating some sort of ideological homogeneity. Rather, it means recognising key common interests and common values, and accepting that certain profound differences are entirely legitimate in a democracy. The ANC will not put aside its pro-Palestine, anti-Israel geopolitical stance, but it will need to come to the realisation that for the country as a whole, this is of very marginal importance, and cannot be a dealbreaker.

Ideological change
Ideological change – indeed, ‘transformation’, to adapt the hackneyed nomenclature – will be necessary to make productive cooperative relationships endure. It is something that can grow out of the arduous and painful process of creating trust, and out of the moderate successes that would start to be showcased by a technocratic approach to governance.

In setting out the ANC’s principles for a ‘Government of National Unity’, President Ramaphosa declared: ‘All partners must commit to shared values, nation-building and social cohesion. These values include respect for the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the rule of law, social justice and equity, human dignity, non-racialism and non-sexism.’

Given the ANC’s conduct, there is a rich seam of irony in this. But it is also a decent starting point.

What South Africa must do is dispense with the pat injunctions to ‘work together for the good of the country’. This is meaningless verbiage; there is little agreement on what that ‘good’ would be, nor how to achieve it. Shared values, nation-building and social cohesion amount to difficult stuff and will take effort and goodwill to achieve. Maybe this will be the moment for some sort of South African ‘peace of the brave’. There are no guarantees, though also no obvious alternatives.

Terence Corrigan is the Project Manager at the Institute, where he specialises in work on property rights, as well as land and mining policy

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.

Making a co-operative government work in SA: Terence Corrigan - Biznews

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