Looking back at the road ahead

The Transformation Audit of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation is a revolutionary idea, because it is an audit of national performance — not a performance audit of government, or of one or other organisation — but rather it questions how we, the South African society, are doing.

It says we have established a base camp from which we can scale the mountain of transformation, and this is true.

I believe that the Institute’s premise, that true reconciliation is not possible without economic justice, holds true.
That is a profound, an important and a very simple notion to understand, but we would rather look the other way because it engages us to do something about injustice, in a forward-looking way.

Apartheid and colonialism erected a massive scaffold during the three centuries before our freedom. Simply agreeing to our national settlement cannot remove the whole of the intricate framework that apartheid put in place.

Legacy issues remain around ownership of economic production. They remain around issues of education quality, skills and experience, which concern the individual capacity that we need for full transformation. Legacy also impacts on our institutional and societal capacities.

We often forget that we have a government that over the past 10 years has developed enormously comprehensive policy frameworks.

It is not that we lack the political will to help transformation, but what we all have to acknowledge is that capacity to make it succeed must reside in all of us as individuals, as institutions and as a society.

We begin with an extraordinary consensus in this country. From the political left or the right, we all acknowledge the need to address what we have inherited from apartheid. Our problem is that there is no agreement on the “how”. How do we transform our society towards that vision? How do we progress to that summit that we are all looking towards?

One thing is clear: there are no quick fixes. We have tried one kind of black economic empowerment, via a kind of quick-fix, elite-groups solution — it doesn’t work.

We have tried to fix the school system in terms of simply throwing money at the problem. It doesn’t work.

We have seen that the public sector, in spite of the collective commitment, is really struggling to perform. We have seen the private sector also failing to perform, or underperforming in many areas, particularly in terms of inclusiveness.

What is really needed now is policy coherence that stems from acknowledgement, understanding and a willingness to address each and every one of those capacity issues. A coherent policy approach includes dealing with issues of transformation at the macro and the micro level, and in both the public and the private sector. Underpinning all of this is cultural change — changing from a culture of blaming to a culture of owning — taking ownership of both the problem and the solution.

A symbolically powerful part of this Transformation Audit can be seen in its title. This, if you noticed, is Taking Power in the Economy. It is not saying “empowerment in the economy”. It is about active participation, not merely passive benefiting from the deals that flow from the tables of various markets.

Secondly, it is about victors, not victims. It is about recognising the fact that we have come to where we are because of a freedom struggle that people fought and won. We are victors, we are not victims, and as victors we have to claim ownership of the opportunities that we have won, and apply our minds and our efforts actively to realise those perceptions.

We are citizens and not supplicants in the corridors of power, whether those corridors are public or private corridors of power. We need to be dutifully engaged in whatever we are doing, whether it is industry or running a university or running an organisation, we need to be zealously guarding the gains of our democracy. We need now to own the challenge of the transformation process, of the nation building and of the work-creation process.

We must insist on that ownership and not be in a business of demanding entitlement without adding value to the work and the nation building of this country.

This symbolic new and powerful report is focusing our minds on a transformed economy in a transformed society. This speaks to a South Africa, or a South African economy, which we can measure. We can measure its performance, in terms of work creation; providing employment; its stability; and its diversity — not just in terms of ownership, but also in terms of the breadth of participation. We need to audit, to monitor in terms of clear performance measures whether our society is producing the products we need. Are we reducing unemployment and all its indignities? Are we reducing inequality, and are we improving our capacity to manage this wonderful country?

The issue of the two economies is also one we must address. This is now a conventional wisdom in the media, and as someone who has just arrived home, I am intrigued by it. It seems to me that the statement by our president about the two economies was really a necessary shock therapy. It was needed to get us out of the complacency of thinking that having done away with apartheid, all’s well.

Having received the shock therapy, perhaps it is time for us to review and say that at the end of the day we have only one economy. What we have is a South African economy, and what we have is a South African society.

So we really need to recover from the president’s shock therapy, acknowledge that we needed it, and go on to ask: Now how do we deal with this one economy? We want to deal with it so that it becomes a big economy, that is a prosperous, inclusive and vibrant economy, one that can truly give opportunities to all South African people, but will also allow them to be able to participate in it and grow this economic cake so that they are not fighting over a thin slice, but they are growing it so we all have enough.

Finally, our Africanness is an asset. Often I have heard people say “Oh, but the South African government is spending too much time in the rest of the African continent. Why can’t the president stay here and mind the kitchen.” Well, if you mind the kitchen and forget that it has a backyard, where you can get into trouble. We belong to one continent and this continent is our backyard, it is our front yard, it is part of us. We have migrated, but now when people come to South Africa, come to us, we call them amakwerekwere. They are not amakwerekwere, they are our cousins, they are our brothers, they are our former hosts, and so we need to be thinking very creatively about how we can make this continent a vibrant, prosperous and stable continent.

I want to conclude with George Bernard Shaw’s words:

“Democracy is a device that ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

This Transformation Audit asks each one of us, how we as citizens, how we as a nation, are doing to enhance the quality of our democracy. Do we believe we deserve better? If so, get to work.

Mamphela Ramphele is a senior adviser to the president of the World Bank and a former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town

Keeping track:

The Transformation Audit:

  • Will track transformation in the next 10 years;

  • Includes tracking of the changing economic structure and the impact on poverty and inequality;

  • Tracks developments in education and employment;

  • Includes high-calibre political and statistical analysis; and

  • Deals with impact and limits of BEE; crisis in schooling; and skills crisis.

    Source: Institute of Justice and Reconciliation. For more information see www.ijr.org.za

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