The academic community’s contribution in response to our political crisis, the paper ‘Betrayal of the promise: How South Africa is being stolen’ argues that South Africa urgently needs a new economic consensus, one to replace the concept of ‘Radical Economic Transformation’ which has been irredeemably hijacked by the Zuptas and Bell Pottinger. Not that there was ever economic consensus, the report points out, this the achilles heel of our 1994 miracle.
We are indeed at a critical juncture; and one of unprecedented opportunity. This opportunity lies in considering the broader context of our economic and political woes.
In the past decade the world has changed fundamentally. At the end of the twentieth century it appeared that we were at the pinnacle of our success as a species. Modern science had delivered to us a narrative that we could know, predict and from there control our destiny. We had mastery (sic) over our environment. Armed with the tools of modern medicine and science the twenty-first century was set to be our best ever.
Until it wasn’t. Until the scales started falling from our eyes and at different locations, different levels, from different perspectives, we are starting to realise that our modernist understanding of the world and our role in it, is partial. The intellectual underpinnings of the last century are increasingly ill-fitting with the dawning reality of this one: the waves of global political surprises, democratic mechanisms that are too simplistic to articulate the will of the people, an unstable international financing system, terrorism – actual and cyber, fake news, automation in the world of work, runaway inequality, the rapidly manifesting multiple environmental crises, and the strengthening and impatient voices of the long-marginalised.
This ‘brave new’ world might more usefully understood from a lens of uncertainty, complexity, interconnection, unpredictability and unintended consequences. Globally humanity has to reconceptualise how we want to be in this world, and quickly, if we are to survive. We have to be nimble, the pace of change and complexification is relentless. The environmental and social limits to our current trajectory are real.
Here, now, in South Africa, we have been gifted with an opportunity. For most of us the extent of the immorality and theft in our society has been very rapidly revealed over the past three months. There is shock, outrage, fluidity, momentum. As such, there is the opening for change. We have the opportunity to recognise the broader global and historical context and develop a new ‘Radical Economic Transformation’, one that is fit for the world we find ourselves in now.
How this is done is as important as what is done, if not more so. ‘Betrayal of the promise’ argues for the development of a new trust compact, and this indeed is a prerequisite. But this is trust that has to be developed and maintained throughout the social system. This is not something that the experts and elites can be trusted with any more, although expertise is surely needed. Developing such a trust compact requires going to the people whom the current system is failing worst and asking them of their vision for the South Africa of the future. And then building; aka the change process as recounted by Jay Naidoo in his recent book ‘Change’, and the #UniteBehind movement. This will require deep process, empowerment, listening. It is a process that must be led by the people, tapping into all knowledge systems and mechanisms to express values richly and constantly.