This article was originally published in the Fall 1995 issue of the Harvard International Review.
In a society as politically vigorous as that of South Africa, a country that has undergone many great trials and tribulations throughout its rich history, it is to be expected that there should be vibrant debate about the future of a new, democratic nation. Through such debate, all South Africans are contributing to nation-building and national reconstruction. Individually and collectively as parties, they have sought to shape the renaissance of the South African nation unfolding before our very eyes. The speed with which South Africans have turned from division and conflict to reconciliation and cooperation has become a source of pride to the nation. Although unavoidable conflicts and tensions that have formed serious obstacles to the process of nation-building have arisen, they have been mercifully few and have been far outshone by the steps signaling transformation and progress.
In the end, the measure of the actual progress the new South Africa is making should be the extent to which the nation sets the stage for the actual implementation of programs. Progress should be measured by the government’s success in involving the people in policy formulation and implementation. This is the real foundation for the consensus that binds South African society. It is a consensus not confined to those in Parliament or to the national or provincial executives. It is, above everything else, a living partnership of social structures united in pursuit of common goals.
The economic and social initiatives launched in the past year are a vivid expression of a nation united in an effort to improve its lot. The National Economic Development and Labor Council, launched a day after the opening of Parliament, has struck historic agreements in the area of housing, engaged in important debates in the field of health, and achieved splendid successes in the area of education. These are all manifestations of South Africans working together as a nation to build their future. To lose sight of this cooperation would be an act of disrespect toward those ordinary South Africans who are themselves ready to assume their responsibilities.
These socioeconomic programs—urban and rural renewal, supply of water, free medical care, or the nutrition program, for instance—are making an impact on citizens, especially the poor. The pace of launching these pro- grams may not have been as rapid as planned. Certainly, there have been many teething problems. But a start has been made, and there is a definite commitment to make visible change one of the beacons of the government’s operations this year. Indeed, in many other areas, the planning process has yet to be completed. But working together with communities, the government will ensure that there is a sense of urgency in implementing these programs, and that there is as little delay as possible between the completion of the plans and their actual implementation.
Obstacles to Reform
The process of national reconstruction has encountered many obstacles that bear witness to the seriousness of the problems South Africa faces in nation-building. The dual scourges of crime and violence deserve special mention. The Minister of Safety and Security and the Commissioner of Police have been instructed to take immediate steps to deal with these problems. At their disposal is a police service already well on the path of transformation. The basis of the government’s approach is that all South African institutions, communities, and individuals should take responsibility for the war against crime. For its part, the government has made clear its intention to address the matters of the unacceptably low pay for the lower ranks of the police and the shocking conditions under which they work. On a deeper level, the nation’s socio- economic woes are at the root of this scourge. The government has also initiated programs to address these problems.
Too often, however, the word crime is defined excessively narrowly when there are calls for action against it. There is a kind of crime that is much less visible, but whose existence is well-known. White-collar crime and thefts committed within businesses are an enormous drain on the country’s resources. They need to be combated with equal vigor. The related issue of corruption also looms large in our considerations. The threat that corrupt norms implanted by apartheid may survive and overwhelm the nation as it sets about building on new values is a very alarming one. It is a threat that the government is determined to forestall. The Cabinet is finalizing a Code of Conduct for its members, a code that shall be firmly applied. However, if the sanctions against corrupt practices are not carried out in every corner (with equal fervor)—government and civil service, political parties, private business and non-governmental organizations—this scourge will remain with South Africa.
Along the same lines, references to the government’s commitment to stamping out anarchy and lawlessness in mass protests have sometimes been interpreted broadly to mean union-bashing and suppressing people’s rights. The government’s recognition of the right to protest and to strike is unshakable, for these rights are guaranteed by the constitution itself. What shall be dealt with firmly—and this is no idle threat—is the breaking of the law through vandalism, hostage- taking, the blockading of roads, and property damage.
In April 1994, South Africans elected a fully representative National Assembly for the first time in their history. At the opening of Parliament, all parties expressed a heartening commitment to work together for the good of the country. Some, however, have made this commitment in a qualified manner, such as those members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who have decided to suspend their active participation in Parliament. The government strongly disapproves of their actions, since it is in the National Assembly where the blast furnace of policy formulation is located. It is there that ideas should be pitted against one another and differences ironed out.
In our vibrant democracy, it is the right of any party or individual to walk out of parliament, as long as this does not mean abandonment of the democratic ideal or withdrawal from the institutions that the nation founded in April 1994. Moreover, removing oneself from the political process runs counter to the interests of the country as a whole: refusal to participate does not reinforce confidence on the part of the South African people and the international community in the capacity of leaders to use democratic institutions to resolve differences. None of the problems the IFP members have raised will be resolved by means of walkouts. It is the responsibility of those who voted the IFP representatives into office to articulate their interests by calling their elected representatives to order.
While one must recognize the right of people to under-take any action within the limits of the law, threats or acts of violence cannot—and must not—be allowed to go unchallenged, either by the people or by the government. All South Africans, especially those in the media, must support the government in fulfilling its constitutional obligation to combat violence. They must not encourage irresponsibility, lawlessness, and blackmail, which can only threaten the gains the nation has already made.
The new South Africa must also come to terms with the gross human rights violations that form the legacy of the apartheid system. In February 1995, Parliament began debate on establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to investigate and prosecute unconfessed crimes committed in the past. Yet as the South African Constitution spells out, “there is a need for understanding, but not vengeance, a need for reparation but not retaliation.” The Commission is founded on an insistence on due process. If it were to abandon the principles of justice, it would subvert the very basic values that underpin a democracy.
On the other hand, the passions aroused by the Commission’s work should send the clear message that the leaders of our nation have a responsibility to manage this process in a sensitive manner. Parliament must handle this matter with the maturity it deserves: to ensure that the truth comes out into the open; to guarantee even-handedness; and to bring about reconciliation. At the end of the process, Parliament must sew together the seams of a divided nation without leaving the dirt of the past embedded in the body politic. Therefore, it behooves all political leaders, from every side of the political divide, to give leadership to their constituencies and ensure that there is full cooperation with the work of the Commission. Non-cooperation, bluntly put, is an insult to the memories of the victims of those egregious violations of human rights and to their relatives. It has been intimated by some that the African National Congress (ANC) constituency is not fully behind the programs of the Government of National Unity. Some political figures have forcefully expressed doubt concerning the capacity of the government to implement its programs, including the landmark Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), which has been called the “Achilles heel” of the ANC.
It is to be hoped that doubts concerning the capacity to implement the RDP do not illustrate a readiness to abandon it. Purposeful political maneuvers must not reflect a readiness to undermine the implementation of the RDP, which will be central to the process of nation-building. All parties, especially those participating in the Government of National Unity, have a responsibility to work together for the goals that have become the common ideals of the nation. The political forces that were united in removing oppression from South Africa must be allowed to act with equal effect upon the task of reconstruction and development. As the majority party, the ANC has the responsibility to lead by example. When problems do arise within its ranks, it will address them frankly and openly in order fully and effectively to defend democracy. But outside of the political arena, society as a whole also has a responsibility to work for transformation, for partnership is central to South Africa’s success.
Society also has the right to take its destiny into its own hands, at every level, especially through local government elections. Given the significance of the local government elections, no one should be denied the right to vote. Religious leaders, teachers, traditional leaders, and other community leaders, as persons of standing in their communities, have an especially valuable role to play in assuring that all South Africans vote. In particular, it is imperative that traditional leaders cooperate in their campaigns and contribute to changing the country. With local government elections, the most important barriers to programs for transformation will fall away. Each and every community will be able to participate without restraint in the planning and development of projects in their localities.
Building a Nation Together
The government has been able to establish the capacity to implement programs of change in order to address the most urgent needs of South Africa’s people precisely because it is a government of all the people of South Africa. Still, despite how far the process has come since the landmark elections of April 1994, South Africans face immense challenges as they seek to build a better life, a long road on which the nation has only just set out. The divided history of South Africa has cast the government and the people in hostile roles. Such a history inevitably set a brake on the speed with which communities could embrace government, above all local government, as their own. But the process of democratization is irreversible. The time has come to accept in our hearts and minds that with freedom comes responsibility. It is the responsibility of participation and partnership; the responsibility captured in the saying: “Masakhane,” or “Let us build with one another.”
On the part of the government, Masakhane means ensuring the efficient and frugal use of resources, providing services to all the people, and carrying through the transformation of political structures toward re- construction and development. It means improved services and infrastructure. Housing subsidies must reach the people for whom they are intended. Not only do people have the right to hear about change from their leaders in Parliament, they also have a right to see change on their doorsteps.
On the part of businesses, Masakhane means drawing on their own resources and managerial abilities to help transform South Africa efficiently and productively. It means providing for training and skills development. The pledge by the financial institutions of 50,000 bonds for low-income housing sets a standard to be emulated by other sectors of the business community. In- vestment opportunities need not always lie in historically well-off areas such as Sandton or Rosebank; they also make sense in Soweto and throughout the rest of the country, too.
For these things to happen, communities must themselves create a climate that is conducive to investment and an environment in which government will have to live up to the high standards of honesty, efficiency, and openness that our country now expects of public officials. Communities must take responsibility for the projects that are meant to serve them. Disregard for a community’s assets—its schools, clinics, and parks—must be consigned to history. The urgent task is to instill everywhere a culture of payment for services rendered. There are still many places where housing and services are not being paid for. These are not organized boycotts with a political purpose—designed to hurt apartheid—as they might have been in the past.
Non-payment today hurts those who have nothing and who are waiting for houses, electricity, and sewerage. It hurts neighbors who must carry an unfair burden. Whatever is withheld is kept out of investment programs for housing and services. The government simply does not have the resources to continue to put massive resources into social programs if money does not come back into the system through payments. Many people are struggling financially and may have difficulty in finding money to pay for services rendered. But family budgets must be prioritized, just as the government is having to re- prioritize in order to bring about a better life for all South Africans. All South Africans must pay in the spirit of Masakhane, so that all can build together.
The Masakhane campaign is backed by the Government of National Unity. It is supported by religious and community leaders across the country, and it has benefited substantially from business support. The challenges that face the nation have been set out in full view of the people and of the world. Through national reconstruction programs, South Africa has solemnly committed itself to programs that will set the nation firmly on the road to prosperity and a better life for all. This task is definitely not an easy one to fulfill, but conditions throughout the world and within South Africa’s own economy favor resounding success. The time to build a new and vibrant nation has arrived, and South Africa must seize the moment.