Often the biggest changes in history are the achievements of thinly documented, informally organised groups of people. – Niall Ferguson The square and the tower: networks, hierarchies and the struggle for global power (2017)
If we believe that states and governments have always been the main actors in history and that political events invariably come to pass in accordance with the solemn provisions of so-called supreme Constitutions, we are making a big mistake.
Especially in the current South African state, this will be a serious error. Here the state has deteriorated to such an extent that the existence of various forms of public order can only be ascribed to the efforts of well-organized community institutions and a self-regulating private sector.
Community institutions and the private sector are playing a growing part while the role of government officials and organs of state is gradually diminishing, and the Constitution is shifting to the background as the prevailing disorder is facilitating the role of new community-based institutions.
That is why the importance of the joint statement of Afrikaner organizations led by the Solidarity Movement (Solidariteit Beweging - SB) and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF) released on Saturday, 27 February in Cape Town, after a two-day meeting, should not be underestimated. It demonstrates the growing importance of community institutions amidst a vanishing state.
The release of the joint statement is the result of two closely related reasons.
The first is that the SB, thanks to its successful network of community institutions, is taken seriously and treated with respect. Presently the most discussed example of this success is Soltech, which graphically demonstrates the SB's ability and, moreover, affords Afrikaners a measure of self-confidence that they have been lacking for several decades.
The second reason for the release of the said joint statement is the notorious deterioration of our plundered, weak state. Nothing demonstrates this better than the reference in the joint statement to AfriForum’s high-tech community-based security system, which could be harnessed to assist the state in its battle against violent crime.
Like in the 1990s?
During the 1990s, we first engaged in talks and then amid political pressure and violence, in negotiations, which eventually culminated in the new constitutional order. In the current interaction between the SB and the TMF we are dealing, in every important respect - pertaining to both the political climate and from a philosophical point of view - with an exactly opposite situation.
The political climate
1. The negotiations at the time culminated in the current, widely expected glorious constitutional order. However, for well-known reasons, this order has become so obsolete that it now faces its ignoble end. The joint statement as well as the preceding discussions between the parties acknowledge this awkward truth.
2. The then white minority government and National Party (and the Afrikaner opposition) were insipidly on the back foot. Run down by the moral burden of apartheid, international isolation and hampered by an inept party dearth of talent, it was doomed to powerless surrender and eventual dissolution of the once powerful National Party.
On the other hand, there was the ideologically and politically advancing ANC, imbued with talent, enjoying excessive local and global support, which swiftly and brutally outwitted the old government and the clumsy and insecure National Party.
Meanwhile, everything has changed. The ANC has proven to be irredeemably corrupt and entirely incapable of governing a modern state. For compelling reasons, it lost its erstwhile self-confidence. It now signifies the epitome of failure.
With Afrikaners, unlike a generation ago, exactly the opposite obtains. Most Afrikaners first participated enthusiastically in the supposed miraculous new order. Then followed the agony of the tortuous stories before the Truth Commission and finally disenchantment as the true nature of the ANC state combined with its toxic transformationism revealed itself.
However, it did not end there, because two decades ago Afrikaners sowed the first seeds of a new Afrikaner movement that grew into a massive self-help structure in the form of the Solidarity Movement.
This brings us to the conclusion about the second major difference between now and the political climate during the constitutional negotiations of that time, namely that Afrikaners pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps have gained new self-confidence and self-assurance.
The ANC, on the other hand, castigated by its protracted failure, is continuously losing power. Its decisions are not real decisions because they can hardly be carried out to constitute anything noteworthy. The ANC President can at most daydream over smart cities and superfast trains. The party has lost its self-confidence and it is justifiably an object of ridicule.
Afrikaners and the ANC have therefore exchanged the positions they occupied a generation ago.
3. The current discussions and joint statement are premised on the first step in a philosophical (ideological) turnaround, namely the recognition of cultural communities - with particular inclusion of the Afrikaner cultural community. It entails the opposite of the ANC's homogenising ideology in terms of which a constitutional order is based solely on centralized state power and individual rights, and according to which there is no recognition for cultural communities. At best there is dishonest and fake lip service paid to communities. Accordingly, recognition for community institutions is rejected and there is, of course, no question of autonomy for communities over issues that affect them in particular. Hence the notorious aversion to Afrikaans schools and similar educational institutions.
With the SB / TMF initiative, an opposite approach is emerging. In fact, the recognition of cultural communities seems to be a prominent feature finding recurring expression in the joint statement which has characterized the preceding discussions. This is in sharp contrast to the liquidation of communities that have always been central to ANC's ideology.
The emphasis on the importance of cultural communities did not appear from nowhere. It was also not only raised as a (theoretical) idea. On the contrary, it is a product of real events: the enormous building work of the Solidarity Movement and co-operative organizations which finds expression in a variety of successful and expanding institutions.
Orania’s presence was also of real significance in this regard. As mentioned in the joint statement, representatives of the TMF visited the town. It is of further significance that Carel Boshoff was one of the speakers at the Cape Town Summit. The underlying understanding is that Orania, like many peers in other communities, should be allowed to grow normally and undisturbed.
4. However, (cultural) communities alone are not sufficient. They must be empowered. The joint statement, in contrast to ANC ideology of centralization, recognises the need for a certain degree of autonomy for Afrikaners over Afrikaans education and about their freedom to grow their own educational institutions.
- Strong communities imply potent institutions, that is, institutions with financial and executive capacity and authority to serve their own communities, to grow and cooperate with other communities.
- The joint statement attests strongly - even emotionally - to this recognition - when "selfstandigheid” and its IsiXhosa counterpart, the spirit of "vuk'uzenzele" are endorsed. Once again, we are not only dealing with ideas, but with real - actual - actions and projects in which Afrikaner organizations are actively involved.
During the meeting, for example, a video was shown of how Afriforum, together with the agricultural organization, SAAI and firms in the agricultural industry, is collaborating with the Barolong Boo traditional community in the establishment of agricultural projects. In fact, Afriforum has a series of joint self-do projects to its credit, which call to be placed on record for public notice.
- Amid deteriorating racial relations often instigated by reckless politicians, reports of communities working together are encouraging news. However, collaboration does not come by itself. It can only happen when there are self-reliant communities with their own institutions. That is an indispensable prerequisite for cooperation.
It must be emphasized that autonomous (selfstandige), collaborative communities have constitutional implications. It changes the (actual) constitution without amending the wording of the (written) Constitution. Contrary to the constitutional ideology of a generation ago, which were dismissive of communities and only concerned with individuals (individual rights) and state centralization, this fresh approach makes communities (additional) centers of authority. To the extent that communities co-operate with each other, such co-operation supersedes (in part) the (written) Constitution and establishes a new actual constitutional reality in its stead.
But why would the Solidarity Movement be engaging with the Thabo Mbeki Foundation? After all, former President Mbeki does not hold any official position of authority. Why not directly engaging the ANC and the government instead? Of course, this is essential. Moreover, it does happen. Soltech and Akademia and similar other structures must, after all, liaise with various organs of state with a view to accreditation and similar forms of official compliance. That is why the joint statement also commits the parties to facilitating the SB's interaction with state institutions.
The current South African state is experiencing the irreversible deterioration of official state structures. Self-reliant community institutions and the general civic and private sector significantly fill the growing void left by the failed state. It is precisely in this context that non-state, more specifically community politics and inter-community co-operation, become crucial.
Thanks to the growth of the Solidarity Movement as an organized Afrikaner front (so strong that RW Johnson recently in these columns referred to it as a state within a state), it is increasingly in a position (in collaboration with other communities) to fill gaps and establish order in the voids left by the failing state powerless and supreme Constitution.
It is against this backdrop that the importance of interaction with the state has diminished as strong community institutions and mutual cooperation between community institutions become increasingly important. The joint statement of the SB and the TMF attests to that. This is just one of the episodes in the growing politics of autonomous communities stepping into the vacant spaces left of the withering state.
Let us, along with Niall Ferguson, not underestimate the importance of this development. In South Africa, this is the future.
Koos Malan is professor of public law at the University of Pretoria. In his recent book There is no supreme constitution – a critique of statist-individualist constitutionalism he explains, among other things, how political forces profoundly change a seemingly supreme constitution.
This article initially appeared in Afrikaans in Rapport Weekliks.