The country is in the grip of a range of crises that need to be resolved if democracy is to be salvaged, and people are to be rescued from hunger, continued violence and a range of other ills that compromise their basic needs. The ANC- led governments caused these problems -they consequently cannot be looked to for their resolution.
South Africa is currently experiencing an all-round crisis of governance manifested in widespread illegality, violence, corruption, failure to perform duties that are required by law and the Constitution, holding a specific office or performing these duties in a way that is incompatible with what is legally required.
The areas where these failures can be observed cover all facets of South African life, but notably illegal evictions from homes and police and other officials often reported to have stolen possessions of those evicted (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-09-14-a-patch-of-carpet-is-all-thats-left-of-evicted-mans-johannesburg-home/), murders of people who address the question of the homeless, notably Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers movement, 24 of whose leaders have been assassinated, with very little if any police investigation or any official state comment; (http://seri-sa.org/index.php/latest-news/1246-press-statement-civil-society-calls-for-urgent-national-intervention-to-protect-abahlali-basemjondolo-14-september-2022 and https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-08-24-murder-of-abahlalis-lindokuhle-mnguni-part-of-a-broader-attack-on-democracy-that-must-be-resisted/), lack of provision of basic needs like water (for example: https://www.groundup.org.za/article/water-hammanskraal-brown-and-smells-say-residents/ and https://theconversation.com/basic-water-services-in-south-africa-are-in-decay-after-years-of-progress-185616), health care of uneven quality and often inaccessible to many and the right to basic healthcare is described by many medical practitioners as being in crisis (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-08-17-fixing-south-africas-imploding-public-health-system-time-to-take-over-from-the-politicians/ and https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-07-24-i-am-movement-of-7000-health-workers-demands-systemic-changes-from-phaahla-and-makhura/) ; education has seen some quantitative advances but there is failure to remedy severe handicaps (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-03-21-south-africa-needs-a-national-education-strategy-to-tackle-the-school-dropout-crisis/. Conditions in schools are often unsafe, unhygienic and there is often lack of access to learning materials (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-02-28-communities-take-eastern-cape-education-department-to-court-over-non-delivery-of-stationery-and-textbooks/) https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-06-22-eight-years-after-michael-komapes-death-many-limpopo-schools-still-rely-on-pit-toilets/). There is a growing trend of assaults and murders in schools.
Protection from crime and policing generally is known to be inadequate, part of the general dysfunctionality of the SAPS, led by individuals who are themselves under a cloud of alleged criminality or currently facing charges. (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2022-09-14-bheki-cele-case-reveals-toothless-criminal-justice-administration/ and https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-08-26-afu-seizes-homes-cars-valued-at-r75-million-in-blue-lights-case-swoop/ and https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-08-03-npa-granted-r13m-restraint-order-against-paroled-ex-spy-boss-richard-mdluli-and-co-accused-in-graft-case/).
Critical funds for poverty relief are insecure, possibly set to be cut back or removed, at a time of widespread hunger. Covid-19 procurement for treatment and protection of health workers resulted in millions of funds being stolen and treatment being compromised. Funding for the 2021 floods were underspent, with the Auditor General reporting that only 6% of the available funding was used. This while thousands were rendered homeless and lost all their possessions and many still do not have access to safe water. It was also reported at the time that some of the relief destined for those affected was stolen by those charged with distribution, without consequences for these officials.
Part of a more general crisis in the rural areas is the reinstatement of bantustan structures, despite over 15 years of resistance. Rural dwellers are being forced under the jurisdiction of Traditional Courts without any option to “opt out” and be tried under the common law (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-09-14-activists-decry-unconstitutional-passing-of-traditional-courts-bill-plead-with-ramaphosa-not-to-sign/) .
Xenophobic attacks bring other abuses to the fore
It has previously been noted that the xenophobic discourse and practices that are encouraged/condoned by government and ANC leaders represent a betrayal of freedom as a universal quality and a repudiation of compassion for the vulnerable. (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-09-05-freedom-and-xenophobia-do-not-mix-defend-freedom-banish-xenophobia/). But xenophobic attacks also highlight state abuses, with police collusion in xenophobic violence. It has been reported how direct police involvement does not aim at finding who is documented or undocumented, but stealing of the goods of traders as reported from downtown Johannesburg, just one of many cases reported. (https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-09-15-police-raids-in-joburg-cbd-motivated-by-extortion-claim-vulnerable-migrant-traders/).
Xenophobic attacks are widespread geographically, and probably more so than the extensive manifestations reported in the media whose coverage of rural areas is limited. Almost every day there is a new area where these attacks are reported, now in well-known holiday resort, Plettenberg Bay, another day it is some part of Pretoria or Johannesburg or another large or small area. Sadly, some of the xenophobic manifestations are in areas which were significant sites of struggle in the period of popular power in the 1980s, for example, Atteridgeville.
An alarming and increasingly “normalised” feature of South African life is the rise of vigilante groups like Operation Dudula and many others. Police often stand by and allow them to harass darker-skinned Africans who are designated by Dudula as suspected of being non-South African migrants. Among their acts of violence have been preventing such people from receiving medical treatment or evicting others from their homes.
As part of the “normalisation” in South African society of such semi-fascist groups is the amount of air time and print space offered to the utterances of these groups, as if they represent a reasonable contribution to South African debate. These are purveyors of hate speech and at the very least they should be denied such extensive coverage on public platforms.
Who is to get us out of the crisis?
In a situation of a wholesale crisis of governance one ought not to look to the leadership, which is itself the root cause of the problems, for its resolution.
Where the government and ruling party bears responsibility for a problem of the magnitude and wide-ranging character as ours is, one needs resort to other forces to address this.
Normally one would try to vote out the party in power. If that is not possible one has to find another way of resolving the problem. There is, admittedly, an indication of widespread electoral dissatisfaction with the ANC since 2016, much of it manifested in failure to register or vote. Currently it does not govern in five leading metros (four lost in 2021 to coalitions of minority parties) and will have difficulty winning 50% of the vote in the 2024 national elections.
But no opposition party will secure 50% of the vote on its own and coalition government has proved unstable thus far. Given that the ANC, if it is displaced, will continue to try to return in one or other way - fair or foul - the electoral system is a route that may only produce some limited short-term remedies as is the case with the DA-led coalitions in Gauteng and Nelson Mandela Bay, but it has been fraught with conflict and insecurity, with continual showdowns, litigation and periodic violence.
Because there is not an immediate national alternative to the ANC, that there is that lacuna, there is no way that a sustainable alternative to the ANC will be built electorally.
Remedies through courts and other institutions
In some ways, many South Africans have acted on this and resorted to the courts, to Chapter Nine Institutions, mass action and a number of other ways of seeking remedies for their problems. Access to some of these institutions must elude most people who do not know of the institutions or how to reach them.
In the case of litigation, public interest law firms/centres cannot take on every individual’s case, but try to take on a limited number that if successful will give relief to a range of people suffering a similar loss or injury, apart from the party/ies they represent deriving a benefit, (what is called a “class action” suit).
Need to build a new source of power
It does a disservice to people’s agency to continue to narrate the current political situation or the burning issues of the moment as relating to who will lead the ANC, the organisation that is in fact the cause of the problems that we currently experience, the all-round crisis of governance. It is not resoluble by those who are the main perpetrators of wrongdoing against the poorest and most vulnerable.
At a national level, the remedying of the situation is not a short-term question but will require building organisation over the long term. Previously an argument has been advanced to forge a new coalition of forces, not necessarily to contest elections, but initially to constitute a form of social and political power that can bring pressure to bear to ensure that constitutionalism and democracy prevail.
It needs to be a power that will be heard, but not necessarily electorally -though becoming an electoral force ought not to be excluded. It must be heard because of its numbers and the important constituencies that it comprises.
Such an alliance of forces should include faith-based organisations, professionals, business big and small, workers, unemployed, landless, shack dwellers, homeless, rural poor, women, LGBTQI organisations and active welfare organisations like Gift of the Givers and several smaller formations that have stepped in where government was absent.
In arguing for such a new and broad coalition of forces one must make a case for what they have in common, despite class and other differences. If one takes the Constitution as a unifying vision, these forces share a commitment to clean government so that everyone receives that to which they are entitled, rich and poor, informal sector and salaried workers.
They need an end to violence and resolution of conflict through following applicable laws and resolving disputes peacefully. There can be no place for corruption, especially where it mainly affects the poor and marginal. But big business too has nothing to gain from corruption - and in fact needs clean government and the reign of legality.
To bring these disparate forces together, which have quite different constituencies, will require a lot of work. But that is how all previous manifestations of power were built in the past, albeit struggling for freedom.
It is misdirected to focus our attention on whether or not Cyril Ramaphosa will be re-elected, or Zweli Mkhize will be a successful challenger or who will be on this or that “slate” and similar focus on the ANC’s December conference.
Those elections will naturally continue. And it may well be that the ANC will emerge with sufficient strength to secure 50% in the next national election. But it will not resolve the problems of malgovernance, fraud, tender irregularity (as seen in the period of Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership), and we need to find other ways of dealing with those issues.
We need to get discussions going between the various sectors that have been identified and others, including members of electoral parties who may wish to join. A process of finding one another, and compromises will need to be negotiated. The crisis that engulfs South Africa is so far-reaching that some such initiative is now needed. I do not pretend to have anticipated every objection there may be. I offer this suggestion, in good faith, hoping that it will be taken up by all who love their country and wish to recover our freedom.
Raymond Suttner is an emeritus professor at the University of South Africa. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His writings cover contemporary politics, history, and social questions, especially issues relating to identities, violence, gender and sexualities. His books include Recovering Democracy in South Africa, The ANC Underground and Inside Apartheid’s Prison, all published by Jacana Media. His twitter handle is @raymondsuttner