National Convention of South Africa convened by the South African Council of Churches.

The SACC is saddened by the tragic mine accident that has had five miners trapped underground, with three of the confirmed to have lost their lives. Our condolences to the families, and we feel for the families that wait anxiously for reports on the fate of those still underground. It has been suggested that the rock falls were caused by tremors. We look to the final report of the investigation that must follow, whether indeed it is the result of a natural phenomenon or the poor security provisions of the mining company.

Nature has struck disastrously in Sierra Leone, and the large numbers of people who have died or rendered homeless is disheartening. We are in communication with the All Africa Conference of Churches about what the African churches can do together in response, especially in the rehabilitation efforts.

The June 2017 Triennial National Conference of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) called for the convening of a National Convention of South Africa as a direct response to the national challenge posed by the evidence of the capture of the Organs of State. The churches have concluded that, while there may be focus on the specific leaders fingered in wrongdoing, it is even more important to look beyond the present, and work on public values and standards by which we can ensure that in future the present experience is never to be repeated.

Therefore, the primary vision for the National Convention will be to work on and offer the country a firm foundation of public values and minimum standards — the basis for a common, reconciled understanding of South African citizenship — that should inform the governmental environment and services for the common good, regardless of who is in government. This must also address the urgent question of economic transformation for a futuristic, post apartheid social and economic dispensation.

Before 1994 there were very few professional politicians in the days of the struggle for justice and democracy, in the main we were all civil society collaborators, and together we set the agenda for our post-apartheid/democratic society. We made the mistake after 1994, of leaving the matter of public values to the politicians. At the very least, we believe, religious institutions together with civil society must help inform Public Values and Standards for the sustenance of a healthy society.

Today in South Africa we live in a politically highly charged environment! There are worrisome trends that are beginning to define a new normal of political violence, threats of violence and language that may effectively incite to politically inspired violence. The number of people that have perished in the Province of KwaZulu Natal alone is alarming, with no one brought to book as a result. Are we going back to the early 1990s of political violence? The SACC is seriously considering to revisit the old Peace Accord that was our ministry at the transition to democracy. The attitude of politicians to differing views is menacing, to say the least. Mayor Trollip referred to his deputy’s voting with the opposition as committing treason! Th act of treason is met with death; what message is this likely to communicate in our highly charged political environment? Likewise some ANC leaders refer to MPs who voted for the recent No Confidence motion in the president as Askaris who side with the enemy. Political opposition in a democracy are not enemies, they are opponents.

Mr Zikalala, KZN ANC leader referred to Advocate Ngcukayithobi as an enemy lawyer. It is that very attitude and mindset that led to the brutal killing of Lawyer Griffiths Mxenge. Lawyers are professionals who serve all clients as they come.

In the light of these experiences, the SACC needs to conduct a SEE, in our SEE JUDGE ACT approach, to research the nature and extent of intra-party violence, as we consider the necessity of reviving the old Peace Accord, and maybe to include an aspect of a code on disruption of meetings. This is likely to get worse especially in the ANC ahead of December, and during the run up to 2019 elections.

With these experiences it is imperative at this time, for us to again work with other faith traditions and with civil society organizations, inclusively on a broad basis, united with the zeal to restore the standards and values of national life and governance, against which professional politicians and their parties will measure their offerings. Indeed, the time to restore the sovereignty of the citizenry over its servant – the government — cannot be delayed at all.

We need to develop and build a new consensus on our national values to assist South Africans to arrive at a common basis for a shared, reconciled citizenship. We need a commitment to the quest for building a consensus on the minimum standards necessary as a strong foundation for basic public values and standards, in the best interests of every South African.

The South African Constitution calls on us, and our faith traditions enjoin us to build a society whose values and standards make for a just and equitable society based on the foundation of the human dignity of every citizen, and the best possibilities for the goodness of life without prejudice.

To this end, the SACC calls for the coming together of South Africans to hammer out sustainable modalities in this direction. In so doing, we need to deal with the challenge of poverty and inequality, and we need to deal decisively with the culture of corruption, greed and inordinate self-interest in the private sector and the lack of constitutional accountability, and impunity in the public sector, while at the same time coaxing diverse sections of the South African population to move toward a common centre of South African social and economic mutuality.

The churches take the primary responsibility for this as both an urgent act of contrition and pastoral concern. The Christian churches, represented in the SACC, carry the burden of having the majority of South Africans professing the Christian faith. But there also has to be a collaboration and accountability with other faith traditions and societal organizations, to ensure that never again shall the country surrender its public values to the whims of self-serving politicians – regardless of party or the leadership thereof.

The proposed National Convention must of necessity address not only the public values and standards, but also hasten the establishment of a reconciled social and economic dispensation for the realization of the post apartheid promise of South Africa – a just, equitable, reconciled, peaceful, and sustainable South Africa, free of racist, tribalist, xenophobic and gender prejudices and violence; free of corruption and deprivation, where every child born is free to develop to its God given potential. This is in keeping with the pledge that the church leaders made at the time that President Mandela was gravely ill in hospital, which becomes even more momentous on this the eve of the centenary of Madiba’s life.

 

Convention Structure

 

The National Convention will be convened by the SACC with the National Church Leaders Forum and the Praesidium as the convening structures of the SACC.

 

There will be two or three sessions of the Convention, with about six months in between.

 

Preceding the Convention sessions will be weeks and months of intense technical work driven by a Steering Committee with thematic committees and their focused subcommittees, served by persons invited to contribute their experience and expertise.

 

The thematic committees will be broadly founded upon the SACC’s campaign of The South Africa We Pray For, with the pillars of Healing & Reconciliation; Family Fabric; Poverty & Inequality; Economic Transformation; and Anchoring Democracy. However, these five pillars have been reduced for focus, to three themes of the National Convention: Healing and Reconciliation, Economic Transformation, and Anchoring Democracy — with the latter addressing the reforms necessary to plug the corruption holes, to professionalize the civil service, to ensure effective oversight over the Executive in government, by both the legislature and ordinary citizens in communities.

 

These themes of the work remain open, pending finalization with the participation of the Steering Committee and the first Oversight Plenary sitting. However, the SACC would wish to at least include the following focus areas:

  1. Anchoring Democracy: This being the triggering point with State Capture, the Convention should look at:
  2. Desirable Standards and Values in Public Governance and Administration to prevent the corruption of the State and its arms of government; using the present experience and its lessons for South Africa – plugging the holes at all levels of government.
  3. This should include the questions of the professionalization of the civil service,  consideration of options on political appointments at a DG level, professionalise the Civil/Public Service at all levels or consider a hybrid system; the accountability of legislative bodies to the public and oversight measures taking into account the Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 Institutions; a review of the electoral system and political party financing system; increased transparency to tighten the accountability aspects, etc.

iii. The problem areas of justice and security, especially to prevent the abuse of justice and security services. Discuss ways to ensure the credibility, independence and competence of the criminal justice system is restored and protected.

  1. The monitoring of elections to obviate disputes, in support of the Electoral Commission of South Africa, especially ahead of Elections 2019, given the experience of violence and the killing of candidates.
  2. Visiting in earnest the full import of the application of people‘s power, and the monitoring role of communities and their right to accountability; with mechanisms for monitoring of expenditures and service delivery obligations.
  3. Relook at all participatory mechanisms to give full meaning to the notion of participatory democracy at all levels of the legislative and governmental systems.

 

  1. Economic Transformation: Address head-on the challenge of poverty, inequality and low growth. It is to deal  with economic transformation and wealth creation for the disadvantaged majority, by reversing the gross inequality; including:
  2. The need to take seriously and explore best practices in incorporating into the “formal” economy, some of the economic survival measures of poor communities.
  3. The question of how to transform the economy while simultaneously building productive capability.

iii. The need to address the vexed question of land reform in all its aspects and ramifications.

  1. The concerns of sustainable and environmentally sound economic development.
  2. The consideration of a broader regional economic integration that takes into account the common stock of economic resources and opportunities, not only the chronic challenge of economic immigrants, but also to strengthen the comparative advantage of the region in areas and commodities in which it has relative global advantage. We have to acknowledge that the development of Johannesburg went with the underdevelopment of Maseru, Maputo, Lilongwe and Windhoek. Many of our churches work across the borders and we retain a pastoral responsibility across the region, where poverty and inequality can be addressed through an inclusive economic transformation agenda.
  3. The urgent engagement for a comprehensive quality education for economic participation and to enhance economic productivity in the context of economic transformation. The treatment of education as a social service as in “health and education” is unhelpful and leads to education for the sake of education – contributing to the problem of unemployable graduates. With education directly associated with economic transformation, it has to relate directly to the economic productivity preparation of the population. This requires a thoroughgoing attention to the education offering – from early childhood cognitive development to technical and vocational training at TVETs and its articulation with industry and economic drivers; as well university education with all its current funding and spatial woes.
  4. Healing and Reconciliation: In the context of the Economic Transformation theme dealing with economic realities that bedevil Social Cohesion, Healing and Reconciliation is to address the question of what a reconciled and cohesive society should be like in South Africa, and to include in this discussion, questions of:
  5. The inclusive national identity, dealing with race, gender and ethnicity – what it will take to transition from a society beset with racism, ethnicity and sexism, to a healthy society where race, ethnicity and gender are embraced positively in a common but diverse society.
  6. A significant part of the South African woundedness is in the area of family life. HSRC research on behalf on SACC says that only 38% of South African families have both parents. We live with the legacy of the generations of the migrant labour system – both from within the South African rural areas – “Native Labour Reserves”, and from the neighbouring SADC countries, especially from Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho.Work needs be done to develop policy proposals to factor the current reality of South Africa’s family life, as part of the necessary societal healing.

iii. South Africa has seen the emergence of unacceptable gimmicks practiced by presumed religious practitioners who take advantage of the emotional and spiritual vulnerability especially of poor communities; and some who make money from the sale of religious “spiritual benefits”, as has been established by the recent investigation by CRL Rights Commission. This relates also to the woundedness of our society where the Christian faith among the poor in particular, is abused for corrupt purposes.

  1. The kinds of conduct that should be considered un-South African as they bring the country into disrepute and undermine the national project of a just society as the Constitution prescribes in the Preamble and in the Bill of Rights.

 

An interactive website will be developed, along with social media instruments for public engagement and inputs to the work.

 

There will be a broadly inclusive Oversight Plenary, to which the Steering Committee will report to regularly, at set periods, for deliberation, identification of gaps and feedback for further committee work. The Oversight Plenary will include representatives of structures of civil society that are seized with the urgency of the moment, such as FutureSA and #Unitebehind Movement, religious leaders of diverse traditions, representatives of extra-parliamentary organizations, labour federations, organised business, and academics.

 

Proposed Timeline of the Convention Process

 

The Steering Committee with its Chairs of Workshops and Coordinators of Subcommittees will be in place by the beginning of September, for their first sitting to scope out the work.

 

Thereafter, the committee work begins in earnest and throughout October and November, as the Steering Committee, its workshops and subcommittees will continue to work, reporting at the month end point to the Oversight Plenary.

 

At the end of November, we are proposing to have the First Session of the National Convention. This is set for November 21 – 24. The second session is projected around May/June 2018, hopefully with very concrete proposals. If a third session of the Convention is necessary for residual work, this may be around September/October 2018. This gives the National Convention Process just about 12 months or so, to conclude.

 

Whereas the preparatory work is developed and guided by a smaller representation of extra-parliamentary organizations of civil society, the Convention Sessions will have invitations to a much broader body of South Africans, including representatives of parliamentary political parties, and value based organizations that may be committed to the call for the promotion of a unifying South African system of public values and standards.

 

Financing the National Convention:

Our general financing for the convention, because this is a voluntary initiative for all South Africans, will be a call on all South Africans to contribute whatever they can through a crowd funding mechanism, so that this is everybody’s project, and is people-driven. Beyond that, the SACC will approach its traditional anti-apartheid church partners for some seed support; those who helped the SACC support the liberation movements in partnership with the World Council of Churches.

 

Today we say we must ensure that never again shall the country surrender public values to the whims of politicians – regardless of party or the leadership thereof.