Speech by Flip Buys, General Secretary of Solidarity, at the Solidarity Movement's annual national congress, April 20 2011:
It is time for trust to be renewed
Mr Scott, Members of the National Council, guests of honour and members of the media,
Mutual recognition and respect between people and groups are vital if we are to make a success of the future. Although a long list of this country's many positives can be mentioned, there are a few serious concerns that deeply trouble all of us who love this beautiful country. My view, in brief, is that the time has come for mutual trust to be renewed, for at the moment our country is characterised by growing distrust, mounting disillusion, and even mounting anger about all that is wrong. However, as you all know, we at Solidarity are solution-driven and we don't just complain, we take action to address those issues that are of concern to us or that constrain the prosperity and progress of our people and our country.
For this reason I would like to dwell on a few issues today:
- Question: has this become a country of victimised and aggrieved people?
- Causes of the crisis in the confidence between the government and citizens;
- The consequences of this crisis;
- A renewing of the trust between government and minority groups;
- Solidarity's envisaged role in addressing this matter.
Has our country become a country of victimised and aggrieved people?
I am making the strong assertion that it appears as if our country is currently characterised by growing distrust, mounting disillusion and even mounting anger about all that is going wrong. This is true in almost all communities. Let me mention a few examples:
Many black people, particularly in smaller towns, are angry about poor or no service delivery;
Many poor and unemployed people feel that government has failed them and that the "rich" (those who are working) are partly to be blamed for their misery;
Many white people feel the government is running the country into the ground at the expense of the taxpayer;
Young white people feel that they are being disadvantaged by Affirmative Action without them ever having experience any form of privilege;
The country's citizens of all races feel that the government is not protecting them against violent crime;
Workers feel that are getting almost nothing for all the taxes they are paying while they have to pay more and more for ever-decreasing services while the government is wasting their hard earned money on a regular basis;
Businessmen feel government is making it increasingly difficult for them to survive, while socialist unions make it impossible to create employment;
Many Afrikaners feel that they are being singled out as the target for prejudicee, and that their basic rights are being undermined;
A large socialist grouping, again, feels aggrieved because they feel that government's policy should move stronger and faster to the left;
There is mutual distrust between race groups, which is fueled by unscrupulous politicians such as Malema who enjoy the support of the ANC.
Of course, this list could be added to or shortened, depending on personal viewpoint, and naturally there are many positives, too, that can be listed. The fact is, however, that cognizance is not taken of positive things and they are not always noticed, but it is the negative things that affect all of us directly, that are noticed.
The point is that these, and other issues and concerns are creating a growing crisis in confidence between the government and the different citizen groups, and there is mounting disillusionment among members of all communities about what is happening in the country.
As far as I am concerned there are mainly five reasons for this growing crisis in confidence:
Weakening of the State
A general weakening of the state constitutes the first reason, a state that is performing increasingly less of its critical core functions in an efficient way. Among these are the personal safety of citizens, proper public education and health services, essential infrastructure, the management of vital resources such as water, technical and career training, as well as municipal governance and general public administration.
The phenomenon of a weakening of the state is thoroughly investigated and documented in the Dinokeng Scenarios as well as in books. Brian Pottinger refers to it as the "demodernisation" of South Africa.
My concern is that this weakening is not the unforeseen result of ANC policy, but that the ANC is directly responsible for it in that they have not, after 1994, made the transition from a struggle movement to a democratic political party. With a struggle culture you can take-over a country, but with such a culture you cannot govern and manage it.
The demands of struggle and governing are directly opposing each other and are therefore clashing. Notably, you cannot continue the struggle by using the power of the state, as the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) dictates. Then your political culture is dysfunctional, and this dysfunctional culture is institutionalised in your management of the state. That is when the country looks like it does at the moment.
Value for taxes
Working people in South Africa pay exceptionally high taxes, but get very little in return. After a worker has paid his or her taxes on the assumption that in return one will receive services from the state, we have to pay yet again for expensive private services such as health care, pensions, security, education and training, and toll roads.
Everyone is prepared to help the poor, but then such expenditure should be used in an appropriate way to uplift them rather than merely alleviating poverty while keeping people in a state of poverty. We are therefore concerned that welfare has replaced job creation at the heart of the struggle against poverty, because cash and free services to 15 million people is a winner at the polling booth - even if it keeps people in a state of poverty at great cost to the taxpayer.
In the previous dispensation South Africa was an Afrikaner state, with very little room for the majority. Now, South Africa has been transformed into an African state with little room for the minority. Where black unions were previously banned by law, the majority principle in the law is now used to try to eliminate unions that are mainly representing minority groups.
Minority groups are experiencing more and more of what the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls "democratic exclusion" in which the majority abuses their numbers to vote into oblivion the basic interests of minorities, such as their employment, language or educational rights. What they are experiencing is what Donald Horowitz, an expert in the field of multi-ethnical societies, has cautioned against: "in a country such as South Africa ordinary majority rule will merely substitute one form of racial or ethnic domination for another".
For many members of minority groups it feels as if the ANC is ruling against us like a faction government - that democracy is but a legitimate smokescreen for domination.
The American political scientist, Timothy Sisk, says that this is why minorities do not experience democracy as freedom, but as "structural domination by the opposing majority". It is for this reason that back in 2004 the UN, too, in an authoritative report seriously cautioned against "cultural exclusion" by which the minority's institutions and ways of life are not recognised and respected, or when they are targeted because of their identity -the current "Kill a Boer" court case in which the ANC is supporting Malema being a case in point.
The President said in his State of the Nation address that political freedom is meaningless without economic freedom. But political freedom without cultural freedom is as meaningless.
Poverty and inequality
It is of critical importance that poverty and inequality be eradicated in the country, and Solidarity will support all feasible plans to achieve such. However, history has shown that the only solution lies in expanding the country's labour force by employing more people.
For this to happen, the economy needs to grow, and to achieve this, more businesses need to be established and existing ones must expand by employing more people. Outdated socialist recipes will unfortunately not uplift the poor, it will only drag the already overburdened group of working people further down, impoverishing the entire country.
Yes, as Solidarity we may sometimes clash with management, and we may sometimes be anti-management, but we are never anti-business, we are pro-business. Business provides employment, pays salaries and for medical and pension contributions, it trains people, provides vital services and products, pays taxes and develops the country.
Unions such as Solidarity are there to see to it that our members are treated fairly, not to destroy business in a class action! Yes, we do not agree with the extreme capitalists, and we oppose exploitation, but there is no alternative for a balanced market economy. We are not supporting it because it is flawless (the economic crisis has indeed underlined this!), but because it is the only system that can work.
Poverty can only be alleviated by increasing the production capacity of the economy and of workers, not by merely increasing consumption through welfare. Therefore, provision of economic infrastructure and a proper training system offer the only long term solution for poverty. The taxes paid by five million workers cannot provide indefinitely for 50 million people.
In the past, Socialists the world over never wanted to improve reality, but wanted to re-create it with the state as the driving force behind such complete change. This over zealous overestimation of the state's role and ability is one of the main reasons for the failure of the Socialist project in the world, especially on our continent.
After 16 years of transformation of the state, the country's problems are so much bigger, yet the state's ability to do something about it has diminished to the extent that the objectives of the politicians and the state's ability to implement those have already moved far apart.
But any opposition to transformation as the main project of the ruling ANC is fiercely attacked - even if such opposition is in the interest of the country. As Van Zyl Slabbert puts it in his book "The Other Side of History":
The strategic brilliance of the concept "transformation" lies therein that opposition to it can be slated without much trouble as morally condemnable: he who opposes transformation, so it is argued, is fighting for rights that were unfairly obtained and for the continued disadvantage of black South Africans, who globally are recognized as the victims of inhumane white brutality.
Our view is that the country is a Constitutional State not a Transformation State. Therefore, political policies, such as transformation, should be interpreted within the framework of the Constitution; it is not the Constitution that should be interpreted within the framework of transformation.
Consequences of a breach of confidence
There exists a certain form of "contract" between any government and its citizenry. It encompasses that the citizenry gives its consent to the government to rule it and agree to obey the government and to pay taxes, on condition that the government fulfills its part of the contract by properly governing the country, by responsibly using taxes, and by properly fulfilling its core responsibilities such as safety. In view of the aforegoing it is my inevitable conclusion that the government is no longer fulfilling its part of the contract, and this is the reason for the breach of confidence with many of its citizens.
The ANC's supporters do have channels to air their grievances within the party, from which minority groups are democratically excluded, and their crisis in confidence thus cannot be handled via the "normal" channels. Proof of this can be found in the numerous talks between representatives of Afrikaans organisations with the ANC and government which, without exception, came to naught.
Other strategies, too, such as the NNP that was assimilated into the ANC showed no result. This crisis in confidence is busy disadvantaging Afrikaners as a minority group, but it is also harming the country.
This crisis in confidence leads to five types of reactions:
The withdrawers: these people no longer have confidence in the government and live like privatised citizens who only look after their own interests;
Those who leave the country: including those highly skilled people whose skills the country so desperately need, and who have lost all confidence in the state (breach of confidence) and this is not just limited to a loss of confidence in the government.
The rebellious: they rise against poor service delivery;
The survivors: they go with the flow only focusing on survival;
The constructive ones: they love the country, and even if they do not like the government they react in a constructive manner (talk and do) by establishing self-do institutions such as Solidarity.
Renew confidence through a National Dialogue
I would like to return to the philosopher Charles Taylor. He said that inter-group confidence in multi-ethnic societies cannot be taken for granted but must be seen as a work in progress. According to him, it is very important to renew it regularly, as confidence begins to fade and wane as time passes, with negative consequences for the country and for everyone involved. I believe the time has come to renew the confidence between groups in South Africa by something such as a National Dialogue. But to ensure that it doesn't degenerate into aimless talking, there must be two conditions for such a dialogue:
The first is that mutual recognition and respect for people, communities, cultures and human lives are non-negotiable. The ANC's support for Malema's hate speech has led to a deep sense of distrust being experienced within the Afrikaans community. I want to make it very clear that we will go out of our way to rebuild confidence, but we are not prepared to crawl on our knees. We cannot talk to people who have outlawed us as a cultural group as if there is nothing wrong with it. Our sense of honour and our self respect will not allow it;
The second is that it should be more than just a mere listening to one another's views, something should be done to the problems. We are tired of talking about the problems of unfair affirmative action, violent crime, Afrikaans schools and universities, the criminalisation of our history, without these being addressed. It would seem as if there is a total inability within the ANC to look beyond its own narrow ideological and racial boundaries to consider the interests of all in the country.
Such a dialogue with the ANC and the government must thus not be a one-sided explanation of government policy and a sympathetic listening to our existential crises, but must result in an agreement or agreements in the form of a Commitment- or a Cultural Settlement that can be implemented, and that will not just gather dust on the shelf.
We dearly want this country to be successful because our children and we, too, live here. We really want to help make this country successful, but then we mustn't be excluded or marginalised. We want to co-operate with the government, but then our people must not be wished dead or willed dead in songs.
The role of Solidarity and the Solidarity Movement in finding solutions
Whereas Solidarity focuses on the interests of our members in the workplace, the Solidarity Movement focuses on the interests of our members and their communities outside of the workplace. Zimbabwe taught us that the rights of workers depend on civil rights, and cannot survive in isolation.
For this reason the National Council has developed a strategy in terms of which we co-operate with an entire network of partners and friends to achieve our aims. And so we collaborate with other unions, (e.g. with NUM in the Aurora crisis, Consawu as well as a group of unions in the Western Cape), but also with organisations in the cultural domain, such as the Federation for Afrikaans Cultural Organisations (FAK), in education we collaborate with the South African Teachers' Union, Fedsas and Aros, as well as in many other areas that affect the interests of our members.
As the ABN group of organisations we have also undertaken a joint Scenario Planning, and we are currently busy to develop solutions for the problems that were researched. The aim of this is to establish the existential conditions for a sustainably successful existence of our cultural community in South Africa in order for us to continuously help in making this country successful.
Where a few years ago we felt that we were all alone, we are now almost overwhelmed by the support. Bear in mind that Solidarity is an "80%" organisation and movement, which cannot represent the extremes on either side of the spectrum. Therefore, we are most satisfied that almost 50 000 people joined our movement in 2010, that we are now representing some 160 000 people, and that on average 5 000 people join us per month.
Who would have thought that the time would come where we would need an incredible 25 full-time members of staff just to process all the new applications for membership!
I conclude. The ANC cannot solve the country's problems all by itself. We dearly, and in a constructive way, want to help develop solutions for our country's and our cultural community's problems. It is for this reason that we reach a hand of friendship to President Zuma and his party and alliance.
It is an open hand, not a clenched fist, but is definitely not a pleading and begging hand either. We have respect for authority, but we also have our self- respect. We strongly believe in reconciliation, but we reject its watering down to a mere assimilation by the majority. We realise that minorities must fight for that which majorities take for granted. But if the government doesn't care about our cultural community then we accept the responsibility for our own future.
Issued by Solidarity, April 20 2011
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