/ 22 April 2024

How science should meet politics in the 2024 elections

Touching Optical Fiber

It is prima facie that societal development and advancements from the Enlightenment in the 17th century to our current social milieu are attributed to science. The developments of the Enlightenment are underscored in compartmentalisation, such as the industrial and scientific revolutions. In a brief sense, an industrial revolution is theorised as a shift from the traditional modus operandi of society into a new method of operations characterised by innovations. 

From the socio-economic perspective, the first Industrial Revolution compelled modern and contemporary societies to move from traditional mode of production through human-mechanical labour to techno-mediated labour. Every industrial revolution offers society an opportunity for radical deviation from traditional methods of governance of society, production of goods, and education to more innovative methods crafted by evidence-based methods.

For instance, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn adumbrates that the progress of science lies in the changes and shifts of paradigms. For Kuhn, the structure of science is prone to replace a paradigm that no longer works with a more efficient one. It is through this replacement that science and scientists enjoy advancements and progress. 

Kuhn conceives a paradigm as some sets of theoretical assumptions and laws or techniques of application that members of a particular community adopt. Scientists adopt these paradigms to account for the state of affairs and behaviours of the real world. One of the first paradigm shifts is the Copernican Revolution — a perceptual change of the universe from one that the sun revolves around to one that revolves around the sun. 

This movement introduced new ways of thinking and engagement. There have been other series of paradigm shifts that we have experienced in society. The point we are trying to drive home is that for progress to occur in every modern and contemporary society, there has to be a revolution or a paradigm shift.

For instance, let us consider the case of the French Revolution. The French Revolution was borne out and instigated by a group of people who had lost faith in the mode of governance of French society in the late 18th century. Within this period, the French were on the brink of utter bankruptcy based on factors like the extravagant spending of the political class, inequalities, corruption among the royal officials, economic hardship, and catastrophic widespread despair among the French citizens. 

Without going into much detail, the French knew it was time for a revolution or, as we conceptualise it here, a change of paradigms. 

As the South African 29 May general elections draw near, what ardour of disposition are we going with to the polls? Are we going to the polls with the intention of a paradigm change, or are we retaining the current paradigm that no longer works? Before asking these questions, consider the current paradigm. 

In the current political dispensation, or paradigm, South Africa is moving towards the state of destitute. We live in a South African society that has allowed the amplification of failures in service delivery and the magnanimity of aggrandised corruption. Like the French before the revolution, South Africa suffers from socio-economic impoverishment that does not require any right-thinking mind to be equanimous in engaging with this reality. 

There has been massive youth unemployment in the country and constant power cuts in what is beautifully termed “load-shedding.” 

It is appalling to note that load-shedding has become a reality in South Africa. Many failed promises of the members of the current paradigm. Communities within the peripheries and townships are starved of the necessities of life, such as water. Water is essential for the survival of any living thing; depriving human beings of water is depriving them of survival. There has been evidence of inflation in the country, and citizens are struggling to survive. Even if the inflation is set to average at 5.4% compared to 6.0% in 2023 and 6.9% in 2022, the cost of living is still high.  

It is pertinent to note that a paradigm ceases to work when it fails to solve the problems at hand. The challenges faced by South Africans in the here and now are recurrent problems of the thirty-year-old democratic dispensation. We affirm and recognise that every paradigm faces anomalies. However, recurrent anomalies like the recurrent challenges of South Africa should not be overlooked, given the inevitable persistence of these challenges.   

Given these challenges, we return to the question asked earlier. As we prepare to vote, is our intention to retain the current political paradigm or seek an equanimous and placid change of paradigm? 

It is imperative to recall that in our earlier analysis, we expatiated that developments and progress are embedded in the dispossession and rejection of a paradigm that no longer has an iota of success to more promising paradigms that can propel progress. For example, without the Copernican Revolution through evidenced-based engagement, we probably would still conceive that the universe operated in a geocentric rather than a heliocentric paradigm. 

If there had been no disposition to move from a particular phase of the industrial revolution to a new one, we would not have been enjoying the benefits of the current industrial revolution and all its components in the current milieu. Or if the French did not seek a change of paradigm, perhaps the French would still be politically shallow. All the benefits of science, technological innovations, and societal growth we currently experience result from paradigm shifts. 

Given the evidence of an unfastidious mode of governance we experience in South Africa today in our service deliveries, load-shedding and water cuts, inflation, inequality and unemployment, the burden of seeking a new paradigm during the forthcoming elections should be our utmost priority. 

We must seek a progress-oriented paradigm with components like inclusive governance, innovations, and beneficence to our socio-economic reality. As a country, we need to strive for a new paradigm to enable growth and development. It is either a change of paradigm and survival or a retention of the current political paradigm and smiling with the consequences and implications of our autonomous decisions at the polls. 

Edmund Terem Ugar is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Johannesburg and a researcher at the University of Johannesburg Centre for Africa-China Studies.

Zizipho Masiza is a researcher with accrued knowledge of Africa-China relations and the BRICS+ alliance. She is also a researcher and administration staff at the University of Johannesburg Centre for Africa-China Studies.