SA state anything but developmental, new ideas urgent

The state is a site for accumulation rather than the champion of delivery and achievement of developmental goals, the writer says.
The state is a site for accumulation rather than the champion of delivery and achievement of developmental goals, the writer says.
Image: GCIS

South Africa needs a new social compact. We need a new consensus about the direction we are taking, the destination and what it's going to take to get there.

Generally a social compact or contract is negotiated between the state and society. In more practical terms, government, business, labour and civil society are the key participants in deliberations to determine the terms, conditions, roles and responsibilities that constitute the compact.

The problem is that nearly all parties are facing a crisis of credibility resulting in diminished levels of public trust in institutions.

Firstly, the SA state is anything but developmental. It is a site for accumulation rather than the champion of delivery and achievement of developmental goals.

Nothing demonstrates this better than the entitlement of politicians in government who preside over wastage of taxpayers' money.

Add to that a generally mediocre bureaucracy that is complacent because of guaranteed job security.

This is a luxury that most of us who actually work for a living don't enjoy. While the rest of us have taken pay cuts and have even been retrenched, government employees are not only still employed but are fighting for an increase.

Secondly, successive ANC administrations have wasted their social capital. As a result the state has lost credibility.

It is public knowledge that ours is a captured state, beholden to conflicting group interests and is at the centre of contestation over the control of its resources.

There has been - and still is - a lack of political will. Political leadership has not demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the achievement of national goals but plays to factions and interest groups.

We have a leadership that demurs at taking tough decisions to make structural changes that would secure the greater good of most South Africans in the long term.

The bureaucracy like the administrations that lead it lacks discipline and has not internalised the values and principles of the Batho Pele policy of discharging public administration. It suffers from a short termism that betrays an allegiance to party politics and partisan imperatives rather than service delivery.

Thirdly, labour, particularly Cosatu and it's affiliated trade unions including those that broke away a few years ago, is implicated by virtue of its close relation to the governing ANC. It too is complicit in the rot of the state.

The private sector has also not covered itself in glory. Price fixing, price gouging, failures of the auditing fraternity, tenderpreneurship among upcoming as well as established corporate companies that have come to rely on getting government contracts as a staple, have all contributed to a loss of trust.

Finally, after decades of being coopted by the governing party and of buying into the narrative of "a better life for all", mainstream civil society has joined the long-standing social movement activists in calling for change.

Civil society has led the charge in efforts to un-capture the state and to bring the public interest to the top of the agenda.

It's against this backdrop that SA will have to negotiate a new social compact and rebuild the economy.

Social compacts require trade-offs. Given the current state of the economy and our fiscal position, the ANC-led government, even under President Cyril Ramaphosa, enters negotiations from a position of weakness. So does labour, and to a lesser degree, business.

And so civil society, with all its challenges and complexity, is going to be indispensable and will need to take a leading role in establishing a new social compact for an inclusive economy and society.

Twitter: @NompumeleloRunj

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