The current state of political and social volatility in South Africa should not be interpreted as a harbinger of doom, but as a precursor of vital political, economic and social structural change, futurist and scenario planner Clem Sunter says.
Likening the current situation to pre-democratic South Africa of the ’80s, Sunter told the WWF Living Planet conference in Sandton yesterday that the current civil pushback against perceived injustice was indicative of a nation unwilling to accept an economic dispensation that had failed to develop alongside a robust political one.
“The failure of economic growth can undo political progress, and that’s where we are now. While we have a good political dispensation, we still have a highly exclusionary economy.
[However], this is the moment we have to grab, instead of retreating in fear,” he commented during a panel discussion. Sunter suggested that “radical” structural changes were required as the country returned to a climate of uncertainty.
“We need to reframe the perception of what’s going on. We could say that we’re headed into a civil war, or we could say that the people now have the same energy they did in the 1980s to make the significant changes required. We need a second miracle on the economic front,” he remarked.
Sunter’s assertions were reinforced by fellow panellist and commissioner of the National Planning Commission, Tasneem Essop, who called for an “economic Codesa” and alternative models of economic development to be scrutinised.
“We are fixated with the idea of economic growth, which we need, but not in the way we have now. We need radical thought and radical action in order to change things,” she said.
Essop added that South Africans appeared to be ignoring that urgent action was required to bring about meaningful change.
“We don’t have the luxury of time any more. Are we going to keep going on in an incremental way, or is it time for radicalisation? We’ll have to be very radical about it. I’m not saying commit violence, but we need to be radical in our actions and thinking,” she said.
WWF policy and futures unit head Saliem Fakir, meanwhile, described the current state of tension as a period of “disruption and reinvention”.
“There are enough ‘invisible’ sources of power in this country. We need to move out of the myth of the rainbow nation and recreate a new society,” he said.
Bishops call for action
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference is calling on voters to use the upcoming municipal elections to send a warning message that South Africans are tired of politicians who do not have “genuine concern for the economic and other hardships that our citizens are enduring”.
In a pastoral letter for the elections, the conference pointed out a lot was at stake in the elections and that ethical leadership is required.
“These elections come at a time when many are struggling with unemployment, the rising cost of living, household debt, lack of basic resources, the slow pace of service delivery and high levels of crime,” the bishops said.
They stressed it was important to use the elections as a mechanism to tell political leaders that people were tired of “corruption, misuse of taxpayers’ money, little or no service delivery and serious neglect of the common good of communities”. – Citizen reporter