The term ‘radical transformation’, in the context of inclusive democracy, cannot be understood without decision makers, at all levels, taking an active part in mobilising ‘the people’ such that they mobilize themselves for fundamental change. Ultimately, then, politics is an active engagement in morality, beyond structure and power. Politics is what we do to alleviate pain wherever we encounter it within and beyond our borders. It is the humanism of the next person that is the ground and measure of political activism
Professor Muxe Nkondo,
Chairperson of the Collins Chabane Foundation and Rixaka Forum
Attempts to fuse lived experience, knowledge, politics, public service, and ethics lies behind the need to respond to the following questions:
- What shapes lived experience of ‘the people’ in South Africa today?
- What processes were followed to interpret the lived experience of the people, and whose criteria were used?
- When ordering social and economic relations, which and whose norms and principles provided the basis for analysis and evaluation?
- Since the adoption of the Constitution in 1996, whose social and economic conditions have been transformed fundamentally?
- Whose desires and interests have been served in the main?
- What accounts for desperate poverty, widening unemployment, and persistent social and economic inequality?
- Under what conditions has private provision of public service been justified and in what ways has it been regulated?
- Admitting that our situation, caught in the global flow of capital, is precarious, what should we do practically to initiate fundamental change?
- Is our ethical and political duty not to just become aware, passively, but to fully assume our collective responsibility?
- Recognizing that poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic inequality are made and not found, what in our policy, legislative and regularly framework accounts for state capture, corruption and systemic violence?
- In what ways can public integrity be taught both at the level of thought, feeling and attitudes?
- Why is there disjuncture between knowledge and action, as well as values and desire?
Encounters with ‘the People’ in Public Decision Spaces
The last twenty-six years have taught us it is one thing to start a revolution and another to institutionalize it. Translating revolutionary ideas into action and turning aspiration into action, have, of course, been the goals of the African National Congress.
However, radical social and economic transformation has been extremely hard to achieve. The ANC is confronted by a new political and economic basis for policy and strategy development, transformation of the relations between the state and market forces, professionalization of the public sector, democratization of technology, linking diverse democratic struggles, emergence of ethnic nationalism and exploring the link between systemic and subjective violence.
Who are ‘the people’ in South Africa today? At the moment, the term is vague and indeterminate, as a result, dismissible as mere rhetoric.
Given the fact that ‘the people’ is a differential social identity, we have to determine the whole within which it is constituted. This is well advised because we are not postulating any necessary structural centre, endowed within a priori determination that constitutes a totalizing horizon. We have to proceed from the interaction of the various and different social struggles and formations.
Throughout the history of the struggle for agency and the sovereignty of ‘the people’, they have emerged as a political construction defined in terms of democratic social and economic demands, sensitive and resistant to hegemonic power (Laclau, 2005). The demands start as a request, but if nothing is done, they intensify into a claim (as in demanding service delivery or punishment of corrupt leaders).
It is in the escalation of requests to demands that we find the defining feature of ‘the people’ (demands for land expropriation without compensation, free education for the poor, cognitive freedom, cultural justice, living wage, drinkable water, sanitation, reliable and affordable public transport, jobs, gender justice, xenophobia, and so on). If nothing changes fundamentally, there is an accumulation of unfulfilled demands, an increasing inability of the state system to absorb them, the decline in public trust and confidence, and violence.
This will result in the formation of an internal frontier, a response to the antagonism at the core of our politics, and an equivalent articulation of demands making the emergence of the people’s movement possible. This will lead to the unification of the various demands going beyond a vague solidarity, into a stable social and economic force. This results partly from the unavailability of a national anti-status-quo formation in which the ‘people’ could inscribe their demands (Rudé, 1964).
Private entrepreneurial greed, entrenched interests, racial and ethnic bonds, elitism, and so on, force ‘the people’ to identify ‘oppressors’ and ‘enemies’ and to introduce a discourse of radical transformation, in the process debunking the neoliberal claim that it is a panacea for a fissure less society. Instead, it divides society into two camps, with ‘the people’ aspiring to be conceived as the only legitimate force.
So ‘the people’, in South Africa now, are the marginalized, the excluded, the oppressed. This distinction is socially and economically constructed – the relation is an antagonistic one. ‘All power to the people’, in this context, is not a populist claim. It is a valid, legitimate claim to sovereignty.
However, the two camps, structured around an incompatible neoliberal order, can be negotiated and overcome. Of all the interventions proposed in the literature, none is more persuasive than collaborative and deliberative decision structures and processes.
Public Service: Encounters with the Next Person
It is always helpful to know what the ANC has in mind when it seeks to renew itself as an organization and develop a public service grounded in people-oriented values. What does the ANC need in order to inculcate, in officials and elected representatives, a rigorous values-based public sector? Practical experience and research on public service values yield critical insights.
- Insight One. Renewal of organizational structures and regulations is not enough. One aspect of coming to terms with ‘the next person’ in public service spaces can be read is the necessarily clinically working through of the question of difference. This has to do with the next person or the other across differences of all sorts, with one’s relation to the next person, and one’s responsibility to and for the next person.
- Insight Two. Following on from this, there is acknowledged here the question of public obligation, an integral part of any philosophical and practical account. The phrase ‘the next person’ is significant inasmuch as it resists reducing every next person to a generalized manifestation of identity or difference, which occurs perhaps too often in theoretical and political discussions of identity and difference (Foucault, 1981; Levinas, 1990;).
- Insight Three. In attending to the intricate demands of the question of identity and difference, and recognizing the contested conditions of such responsibility, how might it be possible to consider such questions in the development and management of public service? Where we encounter the national, racial, ethnic, class, gender and sexual orientation other within events, structures, and institutions. Which implicitly rely on a mode or form of life antagonistic or even inimical to our sense of personal responsibility to or for the next person?
- Insight Four. But the next person can only be experienced, in both public and private spaces, as she enters into our consciousness, that is to say, in the process ceasing to be absolutely different. This at the same time when a process of change, a mutual recognition of transformation in the self under the impact of the encounter with the next person, or our framework of knowing and mutual recognition, are configured, and the next person infringes upon our ‘self’, occurs in real life. There is no way to exclude any possibility beforehand: this would be to impose a category (such as African, European, black, white, foreigner, coloured, male, female, gay, lesbian, heterosexual, educated, illiterate), upon the next person, and to set limits on the possibility for change, and failing to make full use of the immensity of being.
- Insight Five. Why is the ANC exploring the possibilities of Batho Pele and Thuma Mina as public policy? Perhaps to understand the genius of Batho Pele and Thuma Mina is to interpret them as the realization that at a certain point one has to trust the goodness of those who will live other lives and develop other theories of public service. A way of acknowledging that every human being is working out of the desire for a wide fellow-feeling and solidarity, and that no such working out gets completed. It cannot get completed because there is nothing to complete, there is only a web of relations to be reworked, a web which time structures and complicates every day (Luthuli, 1962; Rorty, 1989).
- Insight Six. One way, perhaps the most important way in renewing the ANC and transforming the public service, in which such encounters happen, is through heightened attention to acts of listening, speaking, writing, and reading, experienced as acts of mutual recognition mediated through language and cognition. One has to acknowledge, though, that the changes brought about by welcoming the ‘next person,’ recognizing our shared humanity, may not be a kind of which you or I, or the public service institution, which governs state-people interactions, would approve. It’s a risky business, a raid into otherness – a foreign territory not yet travelled, vulnerable to all sorts of risks, to which Batho Pele and Thuma Mina values provide an essential frame of reference.
- Insight Seven. The next person – the other – is always relative to a state or order of things, at a certain time and place, which is described both in social and psychological terms, as Foucault does in Madness and Civilization, The Order of Things, and The Archaeology of Knowledge. In fact, the existing frameworks of understanding and practice, in South Africa, an admixture of nationalism and neoliberal democracy, depend on the exclusion of ‘the other’ for their untroubled operation. So ‘the other’ in whom, in the process, we recognize ourselves is not apprehended because it would threaten the status quo, order of things, system, canon, establishment, orthodoxy, hegemony and truth.
- Insight Eight. There can be no standard pedagogical modes whereby ‘the other’ can be brought into the field of the apprehended; this is what we mean by calling the next person ‘the other.’ All the neoliberal pedagogical and epistemological formulas we possess are incapable of producing a version of ‘the other.’ But we might be able to increase the possibility of comprehending ‘the other,’ by the attentive listening to the people around us in the public domain. By ‘listening,’ I mean the process of becoming aware of patterns of silence, rupture, inconsistency, and so on, in the public service field. The O.R. Tambo School of Leadership is one space in which this kind of opening – a truly fresh raid into ‘the other’ – could be encouraged and sustained (Buber, 1971).
- Insight Nine. Responsibility to and for the other is an essential prerequisite for public service in Thuma Mina / Batho Pele – based public institutions and organizations. Sharing is a human phenomenon, and it is unfortunate that public institutions and organizations so often create barriers that make this impossible, and so weaken the capability of the state to bring about a truly inclusive political, social, and economic system (Deleuze, 1994). A way of saying that these values should be part, not only of public service, but of everyday life, and not mere compliance with audit requirements.
- Insight Ten. The ANC’s programme for organizational renewal is an attempt to unravel these intricate relationships and to provide a new framework for understanding public service as a site for ethical, social, and political education and practice. The question of Batho Pele and Thuma Mina public service is by definition posed in terms of how we should inhabit the world and care for each other in it – which is completely different from the current neoliberal approach that aims first to divide and enclose what we call ‘one of us.’ Often, the desire for difference emerges, in modern neoliberal democracies, precisely when people experience intense exclusion. In these conditions, the proclamation of a values-driven public service is desire for mutual recognition and inclusion. But as we can see from the public service project, the proclamation for public ethics is only a facet of a larger project – the project of a brave new order, freed from the burden of race, ethnicity, sexism, homophobia, elitism, nationality, xenophobia, and systemic violence (Ricouer, 1999).
- Insight Eleven. Why is it that the South African revolution seems to have failed to create a revolutionary sensibility and moral imagination? Which revolution in post colonies has?
Social Categories to Particular Individuals: Knowing any Person in Pain
Knowing any person in pain, and still more so, knowing what it is to know a person in pain, is as much a reflective as about an interactive experience. The significance of allowing oneself to know a person in pain, and coming to recognise this psychological and ethical process, as opposed to conceptualising pain and thinking about an individual as a philosophical category, is perhaps one of the most pressing and fundamental questions for those of us engaged in revolutionary morality. Which gives rise to several interrelated questions.
To what extent can decision makers work with all who live and work in South Africa so as to encourage each other to explore, in practice, the potential for mutual recognition and obligation, within the discipline of the constitutional order? In what ways, precisely and practically, can you do so? And in what ways can you imagine revolutionary morality as a possibility within thought, imagination, and will that opens you and others to the experience of mutual recognition and obligation? (Caws, 2004)
Attentiveness to the marginalised, the excluded, the unemployed, the landless, the homeless, the hungry, the raped, the abused – people in pain – has to be developed or, then, better, has to be given a chance to develop. This is equivalent to a kind of active learning, to be actively encouraged. Encouraged everywhere in informal settlements, villages, townships, suburbs, schools, hospitals, prisons, stadiums, and so on; it is an open field, and invokes a space for mutual recognition and a wide fellow-feeling. But this is not a Zen consciousness, in which you are open to the world and notice everything on the same level. As a decision maker, you must cause things to happen in the world.
Than how does one begin to encourage actively the mutual recognition that fundamental change requires, without imposing any kind of control? How, for example, might we encourage an awareness of what seems to be at work in the disruption of conventional social attitudes which radical transformation encourages? Decision makers should investigate and nurture radical interpersonal relationships.
What Decision Makers Should Consider
The emergence of ‘the people’ requires decision makers to monitor the formation of a new political frontier and the establishment of equivalences between a range of demands as a way of augmenting the capability of the state. This would be a fundamental investment in the sovereignty of ‘the people’ and the state. As has become apparent, the paradigmatic role of multi-vocal decision structures is an integral part of a capable and developmental state – that is to say, there will be no radical social and economic transformation without people’s agency. Sovereignty of ‘the people’ is what revolutionary activism means. The consequences for this analysis are deep and far-reaching.
One may ask, what has all this to do with radical transformation? The answer is very simple: everything. Decision Makers have a permanent responsibility to campaign and mobilize for sovereignty of the people as a force for building a capable, developmental state.
The term ‘radical transformation’, in the context of inclusive democracy, cannot be understood without decision makers, at all levels, taking an active part in mobilising ‘the people’ such that they mobilize themselves for fundamental change. Ultimately, then, politics is an active engagement in morality, beyond structure and power. Politics is what we do to alleviate pain wherever we encounter it within and beyond our borders. It is the humanism of the next person that is the ground and measure of political activism (Carter, 1991; Biko, 1978; Zuern, 2011; Desai, 2002).
A politics of the lived experience of the poor is inevitably a radical politics. Rather than a check against fundamental change, lived experience of the poor is transformation’s homeland. Understood in this sense, lived experience of the poor is extremely difficult to debunk empirically. There are many examples of political economists who have found in this version of lived experience an invaluable ally. In recent years, it has surfaced as a key term in the vocabulary of the Economic Freedom Fighters, as it did much earlier in the Pan-Africanist and Black Consciousness movements, as it does now in feminist discourses. Understood as a quest for freedom and justice, the lure of intense lived experience of the poor continues to motivate entry into revolutionary activism. There is also the bonding that takes place in the townships, informal settlements, and villages – for solidarity based on common social and economic experience
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