COMING OF AGE: The Legacy of Mandela, Professor George Devenish
In this piece, published in newspapers in May 2015, Professor George Devenish reflects on South Africa’s leadership in the 21 years since the end of apartheid. Despite the disasters of the Mbeki and Zuma presidencies he concludes that inspired leadership can unite the fractured country.
South Africa as a democratic nation has come of age. On April 27 (2015) it was 21 years since the first democratic general election and the inception of the Interim Constitution, which heralded a new era for a rainbow nation. As a nation we have made remarkable progress in the nature of our body politic and the socio-economic upliftment of the people of South Africa.
South Africa is a vibrant and exciting democracy which is exercised according to an exemplary constitution and a progressive Bill of Rights. We are an inordinately improved society compared to what we were prior to 1994. We are no longer the pariah state that operated in terms of the infamous policy of apartheid, which involved institutionalized discrimination. In international affairs and politics we are respected and play a significant role, as a pre-eminent African state and as an important role player of the politically influential states that make BRICS. Of this we can we justly proud as a nation.
However, despite the manifest progress we have made in relation to the provision of housing, water, electrification and sanitation to people and communities, we face formidable problems and challenges, relating to inter alia, poverty, unemployment, housing, health and education.
During the first five years of our democracy we were privileged to have been led by one of the greatest statesman of the 20th Century. A political leader in a class of his own. Nelson Mandela provided inspired political leadership. He was a man of exceptional moral and political integrity who inspired a nation and bequeathed to us a great and lasting legacy of fearless political courage and selfless service to the nation. Indeed we look back to his presidency as a golden age involving inspired political leadership. His inspired political brand of leadership premised, on reconciliation, united the nation behind him, regardless of party political allegiances.
The Mbeki and Zuma Eras
Although Thabo Mbeki was a man of political integrity, his bizarre policies in relation to the Aids pandemic and Zimbabwe resulted in a divisiveness in our political system. He was unable to unite all the disparate elements in our politics behind him, including those in his own party, resulting in an inglorious premature termination of his presidency. President Zuma’s term of office has from its inception been mired in controversy and scandal. He has failed to inspire South Africa as a nation and the many scandals relating to his conduct such as Nkandla and the Gupta debacle, have had a very divisive influence on national politics. Zuma appears to be morally and politically compromised and has failed abysmally to provide inspired leadership.
If we are to succeed as a nation we require inspired leadership. Zuma has failed to lead by personal example, as President Mandela did. His lack of leadership and his style of politics, involving prevarication and procrastination has led to a virtual paralysis in government, which is exacerbating the endemic problems of unemployment, poverty and corruption. All of these require determined and imaginative policies and programs of action. The National Development Plan was a product of the best minds in the country. It was indeed a multi-party and collaborated effort, which if applied correctly and energetically could take us forward. The Zuma government has however failed to do this because it is reactive and not proactive. It responds to crises, such as those posed by the energy crisis and ESKOM, xenophobia, crime and poverty.
The Need for Proactive Policies
Pro-active policies are essential if we as a nation are to overcome or drastically reduce poverty, unemployment, economic inequality and corruption. Indeed we need transformation to take us forward. Although more than 16 million people are on social grants, this merely ameliorates poverty, but does not resolve the underlying social issues that are the root cause of it. What is desperately needed is a growing economy and an educational system designed to give persons the skills in such an economy.
All however is not gloom and doom. South Africa is a country of infinite potential, being rich in material and human resources. There are strong indications that the fracturing of the ANC, having started with the formation of Cope and emergence of the EFF and the disunity in the tripartite alliance could result in a re-orientation of political parties, where parties differ on the issue of economic policy rather than that of race. This would result in formation parties or coalitions of parties on the left and right of the political centre and those in the centre, as exists in European countries, with social democratic parties on the left, Christian democratic parties in the centre and national oriented parties on the right. This coming of age could give rise to a rejuvenation of both the governing party or parties as well those of the opposition, resulting in a new brand of politicians with leadership ability and integrity.This could indeed produce the inspired political leadership necessary to bring about social and economic justice for all the people of South Africa.