Don’t waste tears on spilt milk

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Perennial wailing is not a solution to South Africa’s problems. It is a sign of hopelessness and despondency and the inability to explore alternatives. It doesn’t change the hearts and minds of the powerful; instead, it fortifies the hand of the mandarins enjoying the preponderance of power over peopleship.

Ironically, in a democratic space it’s peopleship that elevate individuals to positions of power and authority. Introspection is needed to establish why undeserving individuals were elevated to positions of trust and of strategic importance.

Direct and indirect beneficiaries of a low-key kleptocracy may treat this question as trivial; however, when the wheel turns and threatens their personal interests, the shoe could be on the other foot. This process has already commenced, though, and that’s why we see those who have defended the system in the past spewing fire now. Leaders who vacillate on matters of principle cannot be trusted.

The elevation of visionless individuals to the top levers of power has devastating effects on society at large. As we speak, the effects are being felt. This calibre of leader does not have a bigger picture in their mind; instead they use their proximity to instruments of power to turn public economic platforms into fiefdoms. Parastatals (known as SOEs today) and public works programmes were hatched by the Nationalist Party to address the poor socio-economic conditions under which Afrikaners lived. The present dispensation inherited them. These and other developmental platforms are earmarked for mendacious projects.

To a large degree, the racially propelled parastatals and public works programmes served their purpose. They enabled the beneficiaries, among other things, to access better education facilities compared to the so-called indigenous people. Regrettably, this developmental path was situated within a racially designed architecture supported by patriarchy. The latter has placed white females in a far better position in a democratic dispensation by being classified as beneficiaries of the Employment Equity Act spin-offs.

This has created a subtle tension within the workplace. Certain employers have used this legal space by elevating white women to senior and top management positions at the expense of black women to meet legislative requirements for compliance purposes. The South African situation is paradoxical, interesting and complex. The present oligarchy, instead of using parastatals to address societal anomalies, has turned them into spaces in which narrow interests are advanced.

To safeguard personal interests, multiple power blocs have been set up to protect material gains. Abrasive contestations at provincial elective conferences in the run-up to the December elective conference should be understood within this context. A new form of struggle has emerged and displaced the notion of establishing an inclusive and equitable society. The advent of this project has exacerbated the already existing socio-economic gap caused by past legacies. Opposing power blocs are in essence fighting over the proximity to state resources, and nothing else. They adopt differential strategies, reflecting the character and nature of their constituencies.

For example, the physical brutalisation of another bloc reflects the constituency the aggressore represents. It’s a symptom of a systemic problem that has got nothing to do with interests of the people (you and I). Also, this primitive behaviour has got nothing to do with politics or ideological contestation. It can be summarised in one concise sentence: these are acts of criminality.

Politics is a house of power that requires the meticulous application of strategies and tactics to outsmart opponents. This process does not require people to hurt or harm each other. Lethal instruments are unleashed on opponents with the intention to control the political environment – but absolute control over the political environment is unachievable. Any attempt to foster violence in a political space will have unfortunate outcomes.

Violence begets violence and there is no winner at the end of the day. A violent approach to politics adds fire to already socially fragmented communities. When the bar has been lowered so far, the political risk is huge: it is a sign of a leadership vacuum that could be hijacked by the political mafia – who have already invaded the political space. Mainstream political platforms are the main targets for this project.

Ethical conduct in this space is viewed as a menace. This approach within mainstream politics is here to stay for some time. The application of Art of War strategies and tactics have already complicated and polarised the political environment. The political puzzle has become complex and unpredictable as we get closer to the December elective conference.

I’m convinced more than ever before that the battle for leadership is going to be won through this methodology. Three possibilities exist:

  • The preferred or main contending female presidential hopeful ascends to the coveted position;
  • The woman presidential hopeful loses the race for such a position;
  • The main contending male presidential hopeful ascends to the coveted position and this leads to the hatching of a counter strategy to collapse organisational networks and undermine his ability to lead. This could make the political environment susceptible to different forms of uncertainty.

This means there is no need to wail, or think that the situation could become better. Instead, it’s time to explore options that could bring light to the South African political environment. Politics is about power and also about exploring viable alternative options. The future is in your hands, it depends how you use the power you have to select your options carefully, without being informed by emotions.

  • Christian Mxoliswa Mbekela is a strategic work consultant specialising in HR, EE and risk management. A former SAYCO NEC member, he was part of the team that re-established the ANC Youth League. He is currently doing a PhD in the Sociology Department at Rhodes University. www.cmmmindpower.co.za
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