The Sunday Independent on 20 November 2016

Two decades later, South Africa has entered another moment of anxiety and uncertainty.  In the midst of emotions about rising inequality and excruciating stubborn poverty, the rational centre is missing on either side of the ideological spectrum; and in the process our politics, public discourse and the people are the biggest losers.

Further, our public discourse space is paralysed by issues such as ‘state capture’, the International Criminal Court (ICC) withdrawal, parliament that is allegedly disorderly, cult personalities in all political parties etc, that punctuate the state of anxiety and uncertainty. Interestingly, the only discourse that makes sense is one by the youth: #FeesMustFall. Yes, democracies are sometimes noisy, rowdy, messy and acrimonious but; what about the South African Dream that appears to hang in the balance?

What is the South African dream? In most democracies, the governing party and the opposition usually have consensus about what is the common good and the national interest. And the same time, the economic and political elites converge on minimum common platforms to achieve the common good and protect the national interest. Of course, this is not without contradictions or disagreements.

For instance, the most acrimonious election campaign in the history of the United States (US) just concluded. As is the case in the two-horse race between democrats and republicans, the common good and the national interest was neither contested nor undermined. Both campaigns agree that the American Dream is the pivot: that the US is exceptional, that it must export its values, that it is the leader of the ‘free world’, that the economy must develop and be inclusive, that foreign policy must reflect the national interest, etc. Sounds of difference are always frivolous: the quality of the rhetoric, points of emphasis and on how to achieve commonly agreed goals. That is why US Presidents change and yet the orientation of the White House remains the same.

For South Africa, the most compelling description of the South African Dream is one that has evolved over centuries of struggle and triumph against colonialism and apartheid. It is a united South Africa that gives full citizenship to all; regardless of race, sex or creed. But more importantly, it is one which must see all South Africans enjoying a better quality of life as human beings of equal worth. It is one where the best attributes of a developmental state and social democracy are thriving, promoted and protected. In short, it will be a civilisation which Pixley kaIsaka Seme aptly defined as ‘thoroughly spiritual and humanistic -indeed a regeneration moral and eternal.’

That is what should exercise the minds of our political and economic elites in these times of anxiety and uncertainty. Across the political spectrum and within parties, the wrong idea – underwritten by a predominantly reactionary media – suggests that our biggest problem is corruption. Of course corruption is problem but not our number one problem. Meanwhile, the political gymnastics around ‘state capture’ – one sided as the narrative is – muddy the corruption waters further.

To be sure, state capture is not necessarily the issue nor is it new or unique to South Africa. The issue for all states is about the degree of autonomy that the state must enjoy from all narrow interests in society. It does so to gain legitimacy to drive economic development so that it produces better social outcomes.

The state as Peter Evans put it, must have ‘embedded autonomy’, meaning, it should have the freedom to operate within organised interests and above society, all at once. It must have sanctions and incentives for business and other sectors. And it must legitimately mediate disputes between contending interests in favour of the common good and the national interest. That is why the Courts and tribunals such as the Competition Commission must function well. And that is why incentives in the automobile sector are encouraged.

For instance, the interests of the DA and the EFF are more about political power than they are about ridding South Africa of corruption. Both parties have a history with corruption and capture of one sort or the other, although indeed the magnitude is not yet comparable to the ANC. In the ANC, whereas there is genuine concern about corruption, however, one cannot ignore intra-party factions jostling for power under the cloak of clean governance. Whilst all of these degenerate politricks of stomach and power happen, the time to attain the South Africa Dream is running out and armageddon is nearing.

Far more important than the politricks of the day, other social forces are shaping the long-term future of South Africa in more profound ways so much that; it is possible that none of these navel-gazing political parties have a grasp of what to do now and how to manage the change process, hence the state of anxiety and uncertainty.

Matters of migration, urbanisation, demographic changes, poor education, technology and new political cultures have a far greater impact on our politics and the future, more than just political football of corruption. For instance, as urbanisation and migration increases at the back of South Africa failing to fix the problem of uneven development, the Gauteng region is overburdened, the phenomenon of the urban poor grows, the demographics change and the impact on politics produces even more anxiety, uncertainty and even toxicity.

None of the parties think about the South African Dream in the context where 80% of us are living in urban areas by 2050. Why? Because we are busy with wrong things, we do not agree on the Dream and we have a twisted sense of priority. But in China and elsewhere, political and economic elites are able to think and plan about such things.

So, what is one’s prayer? That we have real debates, real leaders, real solutions and secure the South African Dream sustainably. If we do not get on with the South African Dream soon, before we know it, time will be up, armageddon will reign and our so-called politics will signify nothing as future generations spit on our graves!