In his insightful third article on the failing South African state, R W Johnson finds that political space is opening up as state power recedes, and considers the Solidarity Movement as the most likely new occupant of this vacancy, being the largest and most thoroughly organized civil society configuration at present and the most highly motivated to do so.
Given its roots in Afrikaner culture and its determination to achieve “self-government”, Johnson interprets this project to be one of establishing a “state within a state” amidst the weakening institutions of our democratic state.
On 27 February at the end of a two-day meeting convened by the Afrikaner-Africa Initiative, the delegates present signed a Joint Declaration as to their shared values and proposed policy initiatives.
The signatories are 12 Afrikaner organizations, which includes Solidarity and Afriforum along with the Thabo Mbeki Foundation. Details of this Joint Declaration (see here) provide some indications of their stated intent within the perimeters of the receding state. This allows us to update and re-consider Johnson’s interpretation.
One theme threading through the text is that of Afrikaner alienation, as directly caused by policies of the ruling ANC Alliance. This sense of alienation is generated by policies that establish a status hierarchy which downranks them to the invidious position of second-class citizens in their own newly democratized country.
This is being most directly experienced in the marginalization of the Afrikaans language, especially in educational institutions. And it stands in strong contrast to the respect some Afrikaners experience in other African countries.
The immediate objective of these Afrikaners then, is to regain social equality, or, as stated in Section 29 of the constitution, to achieve ”parity of esteem”. Only with a secure collective identity would they be able to divert energy to contribute to the general public good.
The second thread subsumed in the text is that some rights are collectively held and exercised, contrary to current constitutional prescriptions which allocates these rights to individuals. Culture is a case in point.
This is a shared property, vested in people who engage with one another and who find collective meaning in its artifacts, and delineates them as a community, who in a multi-cultural setting make up a society together with other such communities. This is in direct contrast to some fundamentalist liberals who still hold that society is comprised of autonomous individuals who engage with one another on the basis of cold rational calculations of interest alone, devoid of emotive bonds and shared history.
The overall project of economic investment is endorsed, with the specific recommendation that Special Economic Zones (SEZ) be used as a vehicle for channeling capital flows. While not spelling it out in such detail in the Declaration, it is clear that what would make such zones special in the first place is that certain regulations that inhibit investment can be suspended within their boundaries, without upending the overall current ideological project of the ANC (read: National Democratic Revolution).
A more focused project is to find and build an alternative agricultural financing institution, should the Land Bank collapse. The Declaration is explicit that such a project of necessity requires co-operation with the state, specifically the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, as well as the Reserve Bank.
Agricultural development projects undertaken between local communities, with little or no state involvement are also prioritised, with two or three projects that can hopefully become models/templates for others to emulate.
Likewise, two or three municipalities with dysfuntional or broken down infrastructure will be identified, and will be reconstructed in a way that can serve as a template for addressing similar cases.
The practical matter of rural security is also taken up. Afriforum declares that the security system devised and implemented by themselves can be merged with that of the state, with due cooperation from the Ministry of Police and the Commissioner of Police and Crime Intelligence so as to preclude a parallel unstable system of security from developing.
The theme of culture and community runs through a number of objectives. The promotion of indigenous languages, the need for mother tongue education, the right to Afrikaans schools and to the autonomy of such school governing bodies are all taken to relate to the problem of mistrust between Afrikaner communities and government.
The Afrikaner signatories commit themselves to “reach out to other communities in South Africa and the rest of the continent to identify areas of cooperation and to promote mutual recognition and respect”, with the strategic focus of building working relationships between the communities themselves, with support from government only when it is necessary.
A twin initiative of singular symbolic importance is first, to recapitalise the Lovedale Press in Alice. Established in 1823 by the Glasgow Missionary Society, this institution served as a pioneer in establishing isiXhosa as a written language. In 1936 the Press produced Izimvo Zabantsundu, the first isiXhosa newspaper and it also printed the first translation of the Bible into isiXhosa. There is a fundraising initiative at present, which can be supported. Of similar significance to this project is the second one of reopening the Groenberg Primary School in Wellington, where CP Hoogenhout, the founding editor of Di Patriot, was a schoolteacher.
Lastly, the Joint Declaration aims to establish a steering committee (with a budget and secretariat) to channel and shape new initiatives and to implement those already identified. The overall guiding ethos then is that of self-reliant communities of equal social standing who work together to address matters of joint interest within the space provided by the constitution, and who collaborate with the organs of state when necessary.
A State within a State?
Is this Declaration a foundation for the construction of a “state within a state”? Should the deliberations which produced this document have been conducted in good faith, then the trajectory of the intended actions point in a different direction: that of a many-tiered decentralized regime, with many sites of power and levels of autonomy, with self-defined communities as key institutional building blocks, held together by both bonding and bridging social capital, within the overall framework of the state.
If bad faith (that is, hidden agendas) motivated any signatory in the process which lead up to the Joint Declaration then it will fail to provide an enduring network from which new social capital can be generated. It will be hollowed out sooner rather than later, engender even more mutual distrust and continue if not accelerate the decay of the both the state and civil society.
Moreover, both the state and civil society will be in a weaker position to face up to the real challengers to the state. These are the ever-expanding criminal syndicates that operate from the metropolitan centres of the country, with the Cape Flats as the primary example. Here rival gangs contest with one another and with the state for the monopoly of power. Here power does flow from the barrel of a gun.
The presence of the state is fleeting in such contested areas, for example, when the army was deployed to the Flats in 2020, no one challenged the armoured vehicles directly, but as soon as they left the gangs re-occupied the open space, a no-go zone for anyone who does not submit to them. Their rule is over territory, people and resources, especially drugs, and they tax through extortion. This is state-building in its most degenerate form, that mimics the real thing, but delivers the very opposite – enclaves of anarchy - a return to the state of nature.
Pierre du Toit is an emeritus professor in the Department of Political Science, Stellenbosch University. He attended the deliberations of 26 and 27 February as an invited observer.