The New Is Not Yet Born - Remembering Nelson Mandela
Transitions are inherently complex and uncertain. They bear the weight of expectations at a time when the curtain has not been fully drawn on the past. This is true of transitions from one regime to another as well as intra-party leadership change. Often it depends on the character of the men and women who come to office and those who depart.
The shredding of the truth
There are many reasons for the fraught nature of transitions. For example, when the National Party was voted out of office, it is common knowledge that it worked shredding machines to breaking point.
There is a lot of information that was lost and destroyed forever. Information vital to South Africa’s history and understanding of many apartheid crimes.
Despite meticulous research by top academics and investigative journalists, there remain many gaps in our country’s collective memory.
That was the intention of a government exiting after four decades of inhumane, repressive and brutal rule. Although destruction of documents is unacceptable, it is easy to fathom why the party did it.
It had strongrooms full of files recording unspeakable atrocities. It had spies and units the mission of which was dedicated to the obliteration of liberation movements, creating and fuelling conflict in communities.
Who can forget the internecine violence in the townships of Cape Town – Crossroads, Khayelitsha, KTC? Some parts of this land are still drenched in blood; violence is deeply etched in the land in KwaZulu-Natal’s townships and the Midlands.
The deadly 1980s remain part of Gauteng’s ugly history, the hostel dwellers in deadly fights with neighbours in the townships, mine conflicts, people thrown out of moving trains because they happened to get on to the “wrong” carriage.
With the help of dogged investigative journalists, such as Jacques Pauw, Max du Preez and many others, some of apartheid’s operations, as in Vlakplaas, were unmasked. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission lifted the lid on other crimes that were hidden from public view.
Yet, despite all that we know today, we know that we do not know nearly enough and perhaps will never know the full extent of apartheid’s brutality.
There are crimes which remain hidden, unspoken and unacknowledged.
These took place in rural parts of this country. For example, in a small sleepy village just outside of Indwe villagers protested against former Bantustan “Paramount Chief” Kaiser Matanzima. The response was a series of actions, including scorched-earth tactics. Homestead kraals were set alight with domestic animals inside. As people tried to help the bellowing cattle and whimpering sheep trapped in fire, they noticed that their huts were on fire. Many families lost everything. To this day many people who were born in that period are named Nomlilo, after isiganeko, the terrible incident.
The land of Lady Frere and its surrounds is marked by history that remains unwritten. Human minds are often incapable of coping with so much trauma. There are important details we have forgotten. With state documents shredded, it is difficult to close the gap between memory, buried truths and the actions of the apartheid government and its Bantustans.
From apartheid to democracy
So it was in this void that the Transitional Executive Council stepped in. Even in that period, files were still being destroyed. Most importantly, the first republic after apartheid had to use the civil servants who worked for the previous government.
This was not because the new government was naive. Sometimes the times in which we live offer us very few choices, if any at all. It was that a balance had to be struck between the incumbents and the new bureaucrats. Besides a bloated civil service, in some instances there might have been other costs – sections of the bureaucracy who did not accept the agenda of the new government.
By this, I do not imply that everyone who had been apartheid public servants tried or succeeded in sabotaging the new government. In many ways, the current conjuncture in the country is as complex as the transition from apartheid to democratic government.
When Nelson Mandela’s time to leave office arrived, he honoured his word to serve one term. Long before he left office, it was clear that he was paving the way for Thabo Mbeki and gracefully receding into the background.
When Mbeki was recalled after the Polokwane conference, he honoured the wishes of the party which elected him to high office.
He encouraged his Cabinet colleagues and those who were loyal to him, to put party and state above their personal grievances. He left behind solid state institutions and systems. Whatever the criticisms of Mbeki’s leadership style and policies, no one can deny his dignity in facing humiliation, sometimes at the hands of people he had groomed and helped grow in stature and office. Once he left office, Mbeki spent a long time away from domestic politics and allowed the new team to lead.
Cyril Ramaphosa has not had a similar space.
His leadership, which he won by a small margin, was contested from the outset. Intra-party contestations can be brutal. There is horse trading, back stabbing and compromise to hold the party together. Some of the compromises have far-reaching negative consequences with little returns.
This is obvious in the way former president Jacob Zuma has conducted himself since he left office. He has made it clear that his presence looms large. Many of his lieutenants remain in office today.
They pledge loyalty to the ANC and its president. In reality, they are loyal to themselves and probably Zuma.
While steps are afoot to clean the administration and to build institutions that were hollowed out during the Zuma period, it is impossible to move more quickly. Many of Zuma’s people remain in key positions.
Even if they wanted to change, they are conscious of many ways in which they are deeply compromised. It is a matter of public record that many disreputable ministers from the Zuma era are serving in this administration. They are now part of Ramaphosa’s headache and will be linked to his legacy.
As Zuma saw his days were coming to an end, he booby trapped Ramaphosa with the land question and free higher education, which increased the deficit by billions, knowing that the state was bankrupt.
His populism paid off – it increased Ramaphosa’s difficulties. There are many issues facing the Ramaphosa-led government. Health is hanging by a thread. Education, especially basic education, is in a desperate state.
Strong vision needed
It is time for Ramaphosa to take decisive steps. He does not have sufficient time left. Generally, the early months in office set the tone. He and his team have taken important decisions and established the SA Revenue Service commission of inquiry into state capture and other important steps relating to state-owned entities (SOEs).
But this administration needs to develop a strong vision and communicate it. We need to know what the substantive difference between this period and the Zuma era is, as it affects people’s lives. A solid programme with clear time frames, deliverables and consequences will show us this administration is committed to act in the interests of the people.
Not the only game in town
Land is one of the first issues that should be looked at closely. That Parliament is busy with public hearings on section 25 does not mean other programmes must stop. South Africans deserve to know the state of various land programmes.
A thorough audit of efficacy and rationalisation of programmes and policies of the rural development and land reform department is long overdue. Whether this is done by a special swat team or by officials depends on how the administration sees this strategic issue. Existing land claims must be finalised and land given to its rightful owners. These delays have been painful for families and communities who have been waiting for decades. This must be addressed with the urgency it deserves.
In 2016 I met a man who has 365-plus cattle and a large number of sheep. He did not want a government handout. He wanted help to get a farm through a loan. By all standards, he qualifies for a farm under land redistribution, but his pleas to Bisho fell on deaf ears. He was not the only one. After the meeting, we stood in the hot sun, listening to people who spoke of seeing government trucks with fertilisers skipping their communities and delivering these to “special farms” in the area. These people had put everything they had into their projects, yet they did not receive government assistance. They, too, watched water tanks driving past to deliver water to other farms while their vegetables were dying because of drought.
Rebuild the state
The current conjuncture is difficult, both at the intra- party and state level. It is important that this administration finds ways of dealing with the issues that are pressing for South Africans, especially poor people, in whose name much is done.
Strengthening institutions, administrative instruments and building capacity of the state are all important.
The Ramaphosa-led government will succeed only if it goes back to the drawing board and looks at the fundamental issue of statecraft.
Are the institutions in place aligned with the vision that will take us out of the mess left behind by the previous administration? What needs to be realigned, changed and fixed? What human resources are needed?
There are institutions and functions that are weak, such as the Deeds Office and Land Administration. These require attention because they are critical to a functioning state.
Two weeks ago a friend told me of a horrendous experience at her local home affairs office. When she asked why people were told to arrive at 5am, three hours before the office opened, she was told “it is because of cutbacks. We have fewer stations and do not have mobile units.” Yet, these same officials close at 2.30pm and leave throngs of unserved people.
And why should they not? The callousness (that started with apartheid and continued under Zuma and still does today) starts at the top. The actions of our leaders send a message that it is okay to treat people with contempt.
It is up to the people
Regrettably, Zuma is gone but he is also present, and he is still multiplying. In the interregnum, not only are the morbid symptoms alive, not only is the new not yet born, but new dysfunctionalities and opportunism threaten to kill whatever hope we have of digging ourselves out of this mess.
We all fear the ever-present, greedy hand of Zuma and his Gupta friends. The only way we can prevent that setback is through focusing on what needs to be done now.
Yes, the president might have to tread lightly, but there is a need for balance and it must tilt towards the people. Ultimately, it is the people, if they are organised to act, who can stop the tide of populist demagoguery which is being visited on the republic.
[Nomboniso Gasa is a political analyst, public speaker on gender, politics and culture and a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Law and Society of the law faculty of the University of Cape Town. Her focus is on the intersection of land, living custom, the construction of identities and traditional leadership. In the 1990s, she was executive secretary responsible for policy development in the ANC's Commission on the Emancipation of Women. She was closely involved in the ANC's decisive contribution to the negotiation of a new constitution, focusing specifically on gender equality. Gasa headed the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (I-IDEA) in Nigeria. She conceptualized and drove a massive research program with Nigerian and international scholars. This culminated in a book published by I-IDEA “Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) for Nation Building” and multi stakeholder policy dialogues, including politicians, academics, senior religious leaders and civil society. The publication is treated by many Nigerians, other scholars and analysts as seminal work on many contemporary Nigerian issues. Further, her publications include “Women in South African History” (2007, HSRC Press). As an art critic, she has published essays in catalogues and written in popular media. Gasa has been a political activist since her teenage years, which led to her first detention without trial and her torture at the age of 14 in the former Transkei.]
Thanks to the author for sending this to Portside.