Social compacts integral to SA’s development Government alone cannot stop SA’s slide into the abyss of a failed state
Poor service delivery affects residents at Boikhutso informal settlement, where they are forced to collect water from a tanker.
Image: Alaister Russell
SA is at a crossroads. What we do from this juncture will determine whether we build the “better life for all” that the ANC has promised since coming into office in 1994 or slide into the abyss of a failed state.
In the 28 years since 1994, there have been gains for the people, particularly in areas such as housing, primary healthcare coverage, social welfare, the extension of basic services like water and sanitation, better access to education, and the opening of the economy to previously excluded black South Africans.
However, the number of challenges that remain are unacceptably high and, as our development trajectory falters, this number has increased.
At the centre of all these challenges, old and new, is the economic liberation and development question. No revolution in history has succeeded by ushering in political freedoms while failing to extend economic liberation.
For any democracy to flourish, economic benefits must become a reality for all, and soon. It has become accepted in the ANC that the government alone cannot achieve this transformative development.
There has been in the ANC, and the government it leads, a significant paradigm shift, from believing the state is the main bearer of “gifts” to citizens, towards an acceptance that a nation’s rise on the human development ladder is the outcome of concerted, collaborative effort between the state and free citizens, and harnesses the efforts and contributions of all strata and social actors.
No top-down, government-only ‘delivery first approach is going to find sustainable solutions to our power crisis
Successful societies share one common feature: they expand the circle of co-operation, collaboration and co-creation. They agree on a common goal and path. Even when there is disagreement on how to achieve the stated national goals, such societies tend not to expend too much political energy fighting over what they aim to achieve, but on how to achieve it.
On this score, SA still has much work to do, and not much time in which to do it. The people can no longer wait for the fruits of liberation promised almost three decades ago. Our national policy conference in July was concerned with this challenge, among many others.
Delegates who attended the gathering overwhelmingly agreed that in tackling the challenges of our economy and society, we are committed to building inclusive and lasting social compacts. It has been proven across the globe that social compacts are the most effective way to drive economic growth, boost prosperity for all and reduce unemployment, poverty and inequality.
It is our view that social compacts with various sectors of society are and will be critical in ensuring that we mobilise broad-based support and buy-in from all South Africans into our policy proposals, and that our policies deliver the desired results timeously.
It will require national interest and common good to take precedence over narrow, short-term sectoral interest. This spirit has already been demonstrated in the work the ANC government is doing with business, unions and other stakeholders to design and implement sectoral master plans for areas of our economy that have been identified as critical for economic and employment growth.
To date eight of these have been approved by social partners and are in the stage of implementation, already delivering impressive results through sectoral growth, employment creation and expanding economic opportunity for previously excluded designated groups.
These sectors are selected for their historical importance to our economy, their catalytic and job-creating potential, their social affect, their potential to reindustrialise and revive the economy, their ability to create value chain linkages across the entire economy, and their ability to be leveraged to enhance SA’s competitiveness in global markets.
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The state has completed plans for poultry, retail, sugar, automotive, furniture, steel, tourism and forestry. Working hand in hand with social partners, it will soon unveil more catalytic interventions in other critical economic sectors.
But social compacting is about more than just economic revival. It embraces all aspects of national development. It is about working together in partnership to find lasting solutions to the myriad social problems that still beset our country.
For instance, one of SA’s biggest challenges as a society is the electricity crisis. Eskom and its inability to keep the lights on is a brake on our economy. However, the government has moved with speed to appoint a new board which is expected to implement the new plan that was approved by cabinet recently, which will help to resolve the problem.
But the Eskom problem is more than just an economic crisis. It diminishes security for our communities and undermines people’s happiness and commitment in their lives. It undercuts the trust in the the government to do basic things, and thus works against the goal of building social cohesion.
It is also, ultimately, a challenge that can only be tackled by the government working with the private sector, civil society and communities at the grassroots. No top-down, government-only “delivery first” approach is going to find sustainable solutions to our power crisis.
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The same can be said of the proliferation of criminality, lawlessness and gender-based violence. On the latter issue, the conference directed a strengthening of efforts to achieve gender equality starting from within the ranks of our movement, to every structure and in every programme.
All delegates agreed that ours must be the generation that puts an end to the scourge of gender-based violence, and the discrimination against and abuse of women and children. We were also directed to ensure that the empowerment of women — economically, politically, socially and culturally — must be one of our foremost priorities.
These are not priorities that can be driven from a single source. The most determined and most competent government in the world cannot change the course of a country that has, over decades, developed unhealthy and destructive social relations; or one such as ours that was deliberately and systematically brutalised over decades or centuries.
Our societal and developmental problems are deeply entrenched. There is no point denying that. Many of our worst failures in the last three decades have come from an unwillingness to acknowledge this. We are a resilient people and owe it to ourselves to once again tap into our collective abilities and talent for social co-operation to face down the challenges of this age.
• Mashatile is treasurer-general of the ANC. He writes here in his personal capacity