The Second Transition: The procedural and substantive gap of the post-Apartheid order

14th March 2012 By: Aubrey Matshiqi

In its discussion document, The Second Transition? - Building a National Democratic Society and the Balance of Forces in 2012, the African National Congress (ANC) maintains that, “despite the progress made [since 1994], and despite our status as an upper middle income country by virtue of our GDP per capita, extreme income inequality (reflected in our Gini coefficient), deep poverty, and lack of access to opportunities persist, still reflecting the old fissures of race, gender, class and geography.” This is a variation on the argument that the 1994 democratic breakthrough delivered a sound constitutional and democratic order but has, so far, lagged behind when it comes to the alteration of the material conditions of those who were victims of colonialism and Apartheid. Others have argued that the achievement of political freedom has not sufficiently coincided with the reality of economic freedom. I suppose this is another way of arguing that there are South Africans who are happy with a black majority in Parliament as long as we do not have that majority in the economy.

Was the ANC sold a dummy during the CODESA negotiations, or were necessary compromises made to facilitate democracy and reconciliation? It seems to me that our attention should be focused more on the fact that there is a gap between what we in the trade call the ‘procedural’ and ‘substantive’ elments of our post-Apartheid order. The procedural refers to the fact that South Africans now enjoy constitutional and democratic rights that were denied to them during Apartheid. The substantive refers to the fact that democracy must deliver much more than a set of democratic rights, rules and institutions. Our democracy must deliver on the promise of a better life for all South Africans, particularly those who were oppressed during Apartheid.

To this end, a review of achievements and failures is in order because South Africa will be celebrating, or mourning, twenty years of democracy a mere sixteen months after the Mangaung conference of the ANC in December this year.

When we do this review, there must be no holy cows. We must not show too much respect to the narrow class and racial interests of those who want to futher entrench the gains they have made since 1994. It is for this reason that even the Constitution itself must not be exempted from this exercise. This we must do because not everyone who argues that our Constitution should be left untouched is a genuine defender of democracy. Some are just engaging in an exercise in scare-mongering with the aim of diverting our attention from fixing those things that are wrong with post-Apartheid South Africa if this is going to erode their power and influence. Others are just mindless followers of what they think are fashionable ideas. Both are not going to help us enhance the democratic experience of our people. We must never forget that the content of many debates is informed by the fact that a lot of learning that occurs in society is thoughtless.

Because of the gap between the procedural and the substantive that I alluded to earlier, the ANC discussion document “proposes that our vision for the next few decades should be informed by an approach that suggests that having concluded our first transition with its focus on democratisation over the last eighteen years, we need a vision for a second transition that must focus on the social and economic transformation of South Africa over the next 30 to 50 years.” The idea of a second transition is both helpful and unhelpful. It is helpful because the discussion document is calling on all of us to reflect on the state of our democracy even if the conclusions we come to may be at variance with those of the ruling party.

Conceptually, what motivated the idea of a second transition? Is the ANC conceding that the first transition was a failure in substantive terms and, therefore, a hollow victory with regard to the relationship between constitutional rights and the material conditions of citizens? Is the ANC blaming external forces, its own subjective weaknesses and those of the post-Apartheid State, or a combination of factors for the failures? Should we in reality not be talking about an incomplete or distorted transition in a manner that recognises that class and racial contestation inside and outside the State will be with us for a long time? On the other hand, it is possible that we are guilty of over-analysing. The idea of a second transition is possibly just a function of fears on the part of the ANC that the electoral environment will get increasingly hostile if the ANC government is deemed by voters to be the main culprit when it comes to the failure to bridge the gap between the procedural and the substantive.