Brian Ganson, Senior Researcher, Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement University of Stellenbosch Business School
President Zuma once again emphasized “social dialogue and cooperation between government, business and the community sector” in his State of the Nation address, says Brian Ganson, Senior Researcher, Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement University of Stellenbosch Business School.
“He reminded us that Government alone cannot solve the challenges faced by the country, but by working together, solutions are possible,” says Ganson.
“A colleague, Chris Spies, points out that we are not only at the mid-point between 1994 and the National Planning Commission targets for 2030, but also between the Soweto uprisings of 1976 and the centenary of apartheid legislation in 1948,” Ganson continues. “This seems an apt moment to reflect on the great progress that has been made ‘working together’ to bring South Africa so far, but also on what gaps we must bridge to realise President Zuma’s vision.”
Affecting real change
“South African experience is replete with stories of courageous actors who reach across divisions to form more inclusive coalitions and create new possibilities for action. The Makana Football Association, the ANC’s engagement with the Consultative Business Movement, the many steps leading to the National Peace Accord, and its implementation through the Peace Secretariat all have this thread running through them. So, too, do post-apartheid examples such as Johnny Jansen’s work to transform Pollsmoor Prison by engaging rather than dominating its inmates and wardens. South Africans clearly know what ‘working together’ means, and how it’s done,” he continues.
So why does it seem so hard today? “In my home country, some disappointed with the results of the first Obama administration observe that, after the election, his supporters went ‘from movement to movie’. People stopped ‘working together’, rather expecting to watch President Obama run the show on his own.
Dr Mamphela A Ramphele made the same point in her remarks to a group gathered at Mining Indaba to discuss sustainable development. She reflected that, in 1994, many active in the struggle went about their own business, expecting ‘Mandiba Magic’ to take care of remaining challenges. In both countries, Government may have contributed with the implicit message of, “thanks for electing us; we’ll take it from here.” And that’s just not good enough if we want to see real change.”
A shared platform
The National Planning Commission in its Diagnostic emphasises that ‘working together’ is fundamentally about people: starting with common recognition and shared analysis and building towards mutual trust and a will to transform.”What is perhaps missing from the NPC’s proposed Plan of Action – and the broader national conversation about ‘working together’ – is recognition of how critical people-centred processes and institutions are in moving large numbers of actors ‘from movie to movement’,” says Ganson.
The following are three approaches that Ganson believes might be incorporated into the NPC Plan of Action now being revised.
Create more space for public participation. We can’t work together until we come together. The nation building Plan of Action might usefully establish the principle that all government policies and programmes implement strategies for building bridges and increasing inclusion.
The Constitutional mandate of public participation can be made much more real, whether through more inclusive deliberative processes (building common recognition and shared analysis), or programmes such as Teach SA that unite South Africans in new ways (building mutual trust and a will to transform). “Public Private Partnership” can no longer mean contracting out service delivery to private actors; the concept must be reclaimed for inclusive, collaborative planning and action.
A CODESA for employment. Even where everybody agrees on a concept, sometimes you have to put everybody in the same room to pound out the details. Everybody recognizes the dignity and direct benefits of employment. Most also see that employment increases a sense of belonging, participation and recognition, making “working together” on everything else, from resolution of land claims to good governance, that much easier. A broadly inclusive national conversation on full employment should therefore be a first priority. Government appointment of a neutral facilitator can recognize both that Government is a central actor, and that Government action must be open to scrutiny and debate.
Build social infrastructure for the long haul. Even a perfect plan remains to be implemented, and institutional capacity is needed to make it succeed. President Zuma’s infrastructure initiatives, along with the broader NPC Plan of Action and a host of local projects, will predictably require engagement, dialogue and conflict resolution through 2030 and beyond.
Across Africa, the South African Peace Secretariat provides inspiration to countries – including established democracies such as Ghana – as they build ‘infrastructures for peace’. Perhaps it is time for South Africa to reclaim its leadership, re-creating a ‘Peace, Justice and Development Secretariat’. Local, regional and national monitors and commissions can identify challenges, convene parties, facilitate dialogue, build collaborative skills, lead joint problem-solving, and monitor implementation wherever there are risks to unity or barriers to progress on the national development plan.
Wise policies, programmes and investments are critically important. But so too are people ‘working together’. At quite modest cost, risks of failure can be greatly reduced through people-centred processes and institutions that promote ‘working together’ to build the nation.