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On diversity, divergence and the politics of convergence

By Paul T. Shipale
On Friday, 10 May, 2013, the former right honourable PM using the name 'citizen Nahas Angula', wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the Namibian under the title: "We are each other's keepers: diversity and divergence." In the said piece, citizen Angula asserted that there are underlying social tensions in the country underpinned by motivating forces such as competition for resources which in turn serves as a breeding ground for all sorts of phobias including fear of those considered to be "foreign" in a particular area.

Citizen Angula then concluded that our nation is travelling on a slippery road when our social and cultural diversity has become a source of divergence and a point of departure with retrogressive tendencies of perceiving everything " in a mirror of "us" and "them"; "ours" and "theirs"; "Oshiwambo and non- Oshiwambo speaking", etc, etc.

As a solution, citizen Angula proposes the politics of convergence as opposed to divergence based on true public servants informed by civic virtue. Secondly, citizen Angula suggests that we re-examine our development priorities by investing more in social and community development. I won't dispute the points raised by citizen Angula but only wish to unpack and dissect these two solutions and amplify on them as they border on the strategic challenges that we face as a nation as we strive to speed up social transformation in a new order. For this purpose, I will extensively borrow from the work of Joel Netshitenzhe, an executive director of the Mapungubwe Institute (MISTRA), presented at the 10th Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture in Cape Town on the 7th of November, 2012.

Proceeding from the premise that we are all familiar with the challenges our country is faced with and that we are all aware of the concept of a state, there is no need to seek to trace the evolution of the state from the Athenian and Spartan versions, through the pre-colonial manifestations of social organisation and nation-formation to the rise of the colonial state. Similarly, there is no need to interrogate the Weberian, micro-foundational and Marxist theories of the state and their utility.

For the purpose of this discussion today, suffice to merely draw from this tapestry some generalisations on the actions required to ensure that our state plays an optimal role in leading the efforts to improve people's quality of life. In this regard, as presumptive as this may sound, like Netshitenzhe, we should approach notions of social organisation and the state as being undergirded by class dynamics drawing inspiration from Harold Wolpe's methodology.

It has been argued quite cogently that the very existence of the state arises out of the need to manage social conflict, as asserted by Friedrich Engels in his seminal work, "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884)". In our case, both in South Africa and Namibia, we are all in agreement that the evolution of the state bore all the hallmarks of a colonial imposition, promoting and protecting the material interests of the colonial settlers and representing racial solidarity founded on dispossession, exclusion and repression of the indigenous black majority people.

However, within this racial solidarity, and indeed reflecting what Engels (1890) refers to as "an infinite series of parallelograms of forces", various secondary contradictions played themselves out. Surely, Netshitenzhe asserts, the issues of language and culture were important veneer, but the essence of the tensions was about how to narrow the divide between numbers and real power, between the status of a ruling political elite and a ruling class.

To be more explicit, Netshitenzhe elaborates, the experience of the Afrikaner nationalist movement, illuminates three dynamics, namely;
the conduct of a political elite that is not yet a ruling class and using the political office to capture part of the commanding heights of the economy; how such progress can be facilitated by the extant ruling class courting the political masters by ceding some of its economic power; and thirdly, how advancement of a supposedly communal nationalism, within a capitalist socio-economic formation, may benefit all its adherents somewhat, but also results in a small minority rising to the top, and thus generating disquiet within the nationalist broad front.

If this truncated account of that experience does evoke familiar images of the present, it is because there are instructive parallels of the capture of political power by a coalition of forces in a 'nationalist movement', attempting within an unchanged socio-economic setup to use political power to reorder the distribution of income and wealth and the stratification and tensions that ensue as the elite climb faster and higher in the economic stakes than the rest.

Thomas Sankara, the leader of the popular revolutionary government in Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987, described the neo-colonial regimes in a March 1985 interview with the New York-based socialist magazine Intercontinental Press. "[I]n certain African countries," he said, "These people talk of revolution, revolution, revolution. But they have gold chains and fine ties.

They are always in France buying expensive clothes and big cars... They give big salaries to the military, government ministers, and the praetorian guard."

Surely, the aim of the struggle was to achieve political freedom and independence but the economic system, shorn of racial and gender exclusions, is a mixed economy, with state, cooperative, and other forms of social ownership, and private capital, Netshitenzhe argues.

Surely again, we can cite the slight narrowing of the racial income gap, the extension of basic services to the majority of the population, a social wage unequalled in many parts of the world, the reduction of absolute poverty and the opening of opportunities undreamt of under the previous dispensation of apartheid colonialism.

However, according to Netshitenzhe, if we drill deep into the ebbs and flows of inequality trends within and among races, access to basic services does not necessarily translate into quality of such services. In addition, unemployment remains a blot on the humanity of our society, as we are faced with the triple evils of poverty, unemployment and inequality as identified by our development plan of NDP4.

As a solution, citizen Angula proposes the politics of convergence as opposed to divergence based on true public servants informed by civic virtue, as stated earlier. In this regard, Netshitenzhe elaborates that the maelstrom of a political Úlite striving to rise to the status of a ruling class, an intimate embrace or shadow-boxing with the established economic setup, and in the midst of mass disquiet, we can be forgiven the temptation to invoke Karl Marx's observations after the defeat of the 1871 Paris Commune (La Commune de Paris), during the regimes after the 1789 French Revolution, when he said; "Under its sway, bourgeois society, freed from political cares, attained a development unexpected even by itself...financial swindling celebrated cosmopolitan orgies;

the misery of the masses was set off by a shameless display of gorgeous, meretricious, and debased luxury. The state power, apparently soaring high above society...was the very hotbed of all its corruptions" (Marx, 1871).

Marx's observations, although perhaps not entirely applicable to our state today, do send a chilling reminder of what should not be; when the French revolution strayed from its course and the state was rejected as a mere dispensary of elite patronage and mocked as an instrument of pork-barrel regional or ethnic "delivery".

Indeed, I agree with both citizen Angula and Netshitenzhe that unethical conduct by leaders in government, business, the trade union movement, and the rest of the civil society, the lack of respect for public resources and the ostentation of the elite, delegitimize not only the political and societal leadership, but also the state as such. Therefore we need the balancing act by the state of providing societal leadership, what Peter Evans refers to as "embedded autonomy" as both citizen Angula and Netshitenzhe concluded. On the other hand, the state should be so networked across society as to be able to exercise ideational leadership or what Antonio Gramsci calls "hegemony".

We also need what Thandika Mkandawire explains as a 'social compact', referring to the institutionalization of consultation and co-operation on economic policy involving representation from the state, capital, labour and other organisations of civil society, similar to the Presidential advisory commission on economic affairs recently instituted by His Excellency President Pohamba in Namibia, in order to address distributive and growth objectives of society at a micro-level and as social pact to manage distributional issues of macro-economic policies.

Secondly, citizen Angula suggests that we re-examine our development priorities by investing more in social and community development. In a seminal collection on the developmental state, Thandika Mkandawire says an interdisciplinary team of distinguished scholars examined how South Africa could go about building a democratic developmental state, while drawing on relevant conceptual models and useful comparative experiences from other countries. The macro- and microeconomic questions, as well as the institutional, governance and social challenges facing South Africa are lucidly analysed, as are the country's advantages; such as its existing constitutional democracy, rents from its mineral resources and the commitment of its political leadership to creating a democratic developmental state.

Mkandawire furthers says; Providing an eloquent and intelligent account of what the state's primary goals should be at this point, the contributors make the case that for South Africa to become a developmental state that is both democratic and socially inclusive, economic and social policy have to be intertwined; development and democratic agendas have to be mutually reinforcing; and a competent bureaucracy needs to be built to enhance state capacity.

Contextualizing these views, it is clear that we need, as the former premier suggested, a developmental State if we are to address the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. I also agree that we need to adopt the concept of an inclusive society as suggested by the Right honourable Premier Dr. Hage Geingob in order to respond to what Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari elaborated on in his column that appeared in the Windhoek Observer of Friday 22, March 2013, when he explained that the morbid symptoms in our country are both structural and systemic. The structural are a consequence of the inability of the independent state to sufficiently dismantle the economic infrastructure of the colonial apartheid state and the systemic stem from the inability of the state to emphasize smart government to mitigate against the excesses of the past and as a result, new pathologies and morbid systems of engaging the republic have crept in.

Asthe South African Sunday Times' Xolela Mangcu said, we need to find 'a race and ethnic transcendent leadership and politics' and we also need a pro-active and all-embracing social compact, covering a wide range of such issues in order solve the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Lest this transition is turned into a harbinger of doom and our state is rejected by those, among us, who feed from the dustbins and those hell bent on putting our country on the back foot through tribalism, regionalism and divisions, as a mere dispensary of elite patronage and public boasting of opulence emboldened by the cosy relationship some enjoy with politicians, let us deal with the morbid symptoms and remove from our midst the opportunists and tribalists now disguised as true nationalists.

That is how we will implement the politics of convergence as opposed to divergence as suggested by citizen Angula.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen


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