We must ensure that never again shall the country surrender public values to the whims of politicians – regardless of party or the leadership thereof.
There comes a time when it is of moment to restore
The Sovereignty of the Citizenry over its Servant –
Now is The Time! Ke Nako!!
- Introduction: The June 2017 Triennial National Conference of the South African Council of Churches has called for the convening of the 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. This is a toxic mix that undermines the governmental environment which, while promising a future to hope for, actually saps away that future through the creation of a culture of gross corruption and the demise of public morality. At the core of our national values is the guide of the Constitution which opens with an instructive preamble that says:
“We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to:
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations”.
These prescripts of the Constitution resonate with some of the religious values of our society: These values are embedded in the justice concept of Sanatana Dharma in Hinduism, where righteousness, compassion, generosity and self-restraint leads to happiness, and greed and a false premise leads to suffering. They are featured in Jewish and Christian Scriptures as Prophet Isaiah writes: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17); and Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24); with Jesus saying, “love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
The Holy Quran teaches: “Believers, be steadfast for the cause of Allah and just in bearing witness. Let not a group’s hostility cause you to deviate from justice. Be just for it is closer to piety. Have fear of Allah. Allah is Well-Aware of what you do”. (Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:8); and “….. you enjoin good and forbid evil and you believe in Allah.” (3:110)
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.
- On the National Convention: The call is to bring together the diversity of South African society to participate in an opportunity to develop and build a new consensus on our national values to assist South Africans arrive at a common basis for a shared, reconciled citizenship.
The SACC is not the only formation that recognizes the urgent need for meaningful national conversations. There are several initiatives, which, where they can be integrated would make for a greater prospect of “sufficient consensus”.
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. 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. The decay of the national social fabric is indicative of the complicity of the church in social sinfulness, and its failure to proportionately contribute to a just and fair society with the appropriate social values shared by society and enshrined in the South African Constitution.
There 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.
However, 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.
In this regard, the case for the National Convention is premised on the urgent need to address this challenge, which has resulted in the breakdown of the country’s social fabric, leading to drug abuse; violent crime and impunity; disintegration of family life; hunger and malnutrition; stunting of children’s physical development and the concomitant impact on their education. We recognize that the very real continuing legacy of the apartheid social and economic framework. We further recognise the patently clear areas of the unfinished business of the 1994 transition and transformation. These must be urgently addressed.
The SACC Unburdening Report, together with the revealing work conducted by the investigative journalists, the Academics and the Organization Undoing Tax Abuse, all uncovering dimensions of State Capture, reveals how the Power Elite has hi-jacked governmental systems, while the promise of the country burns and evaporates. What we now understand from all this work is that the present crisis, encapsulated in the immediate term by the State Capture challenge, but manifesting in a systemic and potentially lasting loss of public trust, calls for remedial engagement, starting with a National Convention, that goes beyond and above the challenge of State Capture, and seeks to persuade South Africans to focus on rebuilding this trust.
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.
- The Big Mistakes of the Past: We recognize the post 1994 mistake of surrendering the public values of our society to politicians, regardless of political party. This was The Big Mistake, and which must never be repeated. In the euphoria of the dawn of democracy, and the Mandela spirit of selfless service, manifest in the demeanor honed in 27 years of sacrifice, we invested ourselves in the good faith of OUR government. We became trusting of our people’s governmental systems, that they would always be exercised for the common good, in the best interests of the citizenry.
All societies, through their cultural and faith traditions, have a standards and a common sense of what is appropriate, and what is not. Our Constitution too, which a common standard binding on all South Africans, is clear about the values enshrined in it; but we have not ensured that it comes alive in the psyche and everyday consciousness of citizens in our homes, our schools, our work places, our recreational facilities and our places of worship. This also, is a very Big Mistake.
Instead both religious institutions and other organs of civil society, have appeared to “give unconditional license” to government in a spirit of trust and goodwill. Indeed our churches increasingly became uncritical conduits of State largesse through food parcels that cynically became the vote traps that tended to blunt the critical voice. This, mostly unintended, watering of societal oversight of public values has landed South Africa in a place we could not have dreamt, in the worst of our nightmares. The time has come for us to together work to support our credible institutions and churches for the unfettered service of the citizens of the country.
Together in the 1980s, under the worst of the apartheid era excesses of corruption and repression, the churches worked together with organs of civil society and other faith structures – the organized Hindu Leadership, Jews for Justice and the Muslim Judicial Council — in pursuit of a just order for the common good of all citizens. But then we made the mistake of assuming that democratically elected governments in the new era will always live and operate in the best interests of all society, without sacrificing governance for public interests to the narrow interests of a power elite, such as we now have in South Africa.
It should also be remembered that 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. It is imperative therefore at this time, for the churches to again work with other faith traditions and with civil society organizations, inclusively on a broad basis, united by the zeal to restore the standards and values of 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.
- 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 workshops and their focused subcommittees.
- The Steering Committee will include chairpersons of thematic workshops, the coordinators of subcommittees of thematic workshops, and resource persons invited to serve with their experience and expertise. The thematic workshops will drill down on the agreed upon themes, including interrogating existing policies that relate to the areas of focus, as well as any relevant aspects of the work of the National Planning Commission, and harvest from the many disparate excellent pieces of work that have been developed by pockets of South African thinkers over time.
- Between the thematic workshops and the Steering Committee will be a touchstone unit of strategy professionals, that reviews proposals for applicability, the Coherence For Functionality Effectiveness and Efficiency (COFFEE) Unit.
- There will be a broadly inclusive Oversight Plenary, to which the Steering Committee will report on regularly on set periods, for deliberation, identification of gaps and feedback for further committee work. The Oversight Plenary will include religious leaders of diverse traditions, representatives of structures of civil society that are seized with the urgency of the moment, such as FutureSA and #Unitebehind Movement representatives of extra-parliamentary organizations, labour federations, organized business, and academics.
- Proposed Timeline of the Convention Process:
- The Steering Committee with its Chairs of Workshops and Coordinators of Subcommittees, and the COFFEE Unit, must be in place soon after the Public Launch of August 29, for them to meet to scope out the work.
- From September, the committee work begins in earnest, building up the scope of work, and agenda-setting.
- The last week of September (week commencing 25 September) should be the first sitting of the Oversight Plenary, to receive the first report of the Steering Committee laying out the scope and agenda of the work.
- Throughout October and November the Steering Committee, its workshops and subcommittees continue to work, reporting at the month end point to the Oversight Plenary.
- In November, instead of the Oversight Plenary, we propose to have the First Session of the National Convention – opening evening of Tuesday November 21, to rise at noon on Friday November 24.
- 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.
- It is hoped that soon enough, a web-based facility for public participation, together with the social network system to get South Africa talking, will be established in support of this process.
- There will be a conditionality to participation in the Convention Process. People and organizations must accept some fundamental understandings that will undergird the discussions of the Convention, so that groups and people participate with these as the basis. Some of these will be commitment to:
- Equitable access to economic opportunity, with a clear commitment to a pathway to a just economy – necessary trade-offs to reverse economic imbalances of the past, including the burning question of land reform.
- Provision of an education and skills development approach that enables meaningful economic opportunity for the majority of South Africans, including funding formulas for affordable quality education.
- A need for basic standards and values for governmental conduct, to plug the holes that are open to corruption, strengthen public accountability all round, and maybe even explore the possibility of a structured standards observation body like an Ethics Commission of the State.
- The possibility that there may be a need for legislation and some amendments to the Constitution, to right what needs to be put right.
- A recognition by the private sector of their own accountability responsibility, perhaps in the form of developing an ethics pledge with regards to doing business with government and commitment to transformation.
- Themes and Thematic Workshops: The themes of the convention remain open, pending finalization with the participation of the Steering Committee and the first Oversight Plenary sitting. But as part of 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, the SACC would seek to at least include the following focus areas:
- Anchoring Democracy: This being the triggering point with State Capture, the Convention should look at:
- 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.
- 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.
- Anchoring Democracy: This being the triggering point with State Capture, the Convention should look at:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Relook at all participatory mechanisms to give full meaning to the notion of participatory democracy at all levels of the legislative and governmental systems.
- 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:
- The need to take seriously and explore best practices in incorporating into the “formal” economy, some of the economic survival measures of poor communities.
- The question of how to transform the economy while simultaneously building productive capability.
- The need to address the vexed question of land reform
- The concerns of sustainable and environmentally sound economic development.
- 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 monopoly.
- 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.
- Healing and Reconciliation: This to address the question of what a reconciled society should be like in South Africa, and to include in this discussion, questions of:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Financing the Convention: Because this is a voluntary initiative for all South Africans, the Convention will call on all South Africans to contribute whatever they can contribute 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