Tag Archives: South Africa

On Deliberation: (epistemic)justice and (press)freedom in South Africa in word and deed


The rancid and acrimonious public exchanges peppered with strong racial and gender undertones that mark what goes for public debate in South Africa, raises a question that may at first glance, seem preposterous: are we sliding into a form of “civil war by other means”?

Words, information and knowledge can easily become dangerous weapons of a different kind.

Although deliberation – a free and critical public dialogue – is an essential feature of a stable and robust democracy, it is by no means certain that its citizens will know how to engage in this civic art. Besides, freedom of speech and expression as civil liberties are necessary but not sufficient conditions for this (that is inclusive, deliberative and equitable democracy) to happen: amongst many other things the citizenry has to be capable and the body politic free too.

But what does this freedom mean?

Certainly it means different things to different people and like all concepts, the dominant meanings ascribed to it have evolved and changed over time. In his 1997 Inaugural Lecture in Modern History at the University of Cambridge – later published as a book entitled Liberty before Liberalism (1998) – Professor Quentin Skinner skillfully traces the rise and fall within Anglophone political theory of what he labels “a neo-roman or republican understanding of civil liberty”. He describes how the “neo-roman theory rose to prominence in the course of the English revolution of the mid-17th century…but the ideological triumph of liberalism left the neo-roman theory largely discredited…the rival view of liberty embedded in classical liberalism went on to attain a predominance in Anglophone political philosophy which it has never subsequently relinquished.”

In the neo-roman conception of freedom, civil liberty was not defined by civil society or non-interference, but instead, by not being in servitude. In other words not being ‘in potestate‘ or literally ‘in the power of someone else’ as for example in the case of slavery; or something else as for example in the case of colonialism. The patronizing, patriarchal and paternalistic idea of “the good Master” is therefore anathema to the republican notion of freedom as non-domination.

Importantly, this is not necessarily the case in the classic liberal motion of freedom as non-interference.

In his 2014 book ‘Just Freedom: a moral compass for a complex world’, the political theorist Philip Pettit argues that “freedom in this sense requires the absence not just of interference, but of the subjection to another that was known at the time of the Roman republic as dominatio or domination”. He goes on to explain that “a common metaphor suggests that you are free insofar as you are given free rein in your choices. If you have all the leeway or latitude you could wish for, if you enjoy carte blanche in determining how to act, then by this suggestion you enjoy freedom in the fullest measure. The phrase ‘free rein’ is drawn from horse-riding. When a rider lets the reins hang loose, the horse enjoys free rein: it can go in whatever direction it wishes. When you are given free rein, so the metaphor suggests, you too can take whatever path you choose: you are under no one else’s operative control. But while giving the horse its head in this sense, I remain in the saddle…I do not exercise operative control over the horse, then, but I do enjoy potential or reserve control. And as that holds in the literal case, so it holds also in the metaphorical. When I give you free rein, I refrain from exercising operative control, but I still enjoy the reserve counterpart of that control. I may not pull on the reins but I do remain in the saddle.”

According to Pettit, a “republic, as it came to be conceptualized, is nothing more and nothing less than a community organized around these ideas of equality before and equality over the law. By a curious irony, however, it was at this very time that another way of thinking about freedom emerged to displace republican ideas. Under this conception, freedom in any choice requires just the absence of restriction or interference, not the absence of domination. One can enjoy freedom, in other words, just by enjoying free rein; it does not matter that another party sits in the saddle, retaining reserve control over how you choose”

This conceptual contestation is crucial to understand in our current debates, disagreements and firefights about transformation – in particular transformation in and of the media – towards a society in South Africa that is both free and just. It also raises the real question: what are the subtle and not-so-subtle residual forms of domination – of un-freedom – in the infosphere and beyond, that still plague our stuttering journey towards a fuller democracy?

And perhaps it explains the bitter tones between former comrades and across racial divides in our public discourse: the intuitive and tacit use of entirely different conceptions of freedom and what it means?

Albert O Hirschman in his wonderful 1991 Essay entitled “The Rhetoric of Reaction: perversity, futility, jeopardy” argued that “a democratic regime achieves legitimacy to the extent that its decisions result from full and open deliberation among its principal groups, bodies, and representatives. Deliberation is here conceived as an opinion-forming process: the participants should not have fully or definitively formed opinions at the outset; they are expected to engage in meaningful discussion, which means that they should be ready to modify initially held opinions in the light of arguments of other participants and also as a result of new information which becomes available in the course of the debate”.

But he hastened to point out that to achieve this informed, self-critical and free opinion-forming, deliberative process, is far easier said than done for there are several obstacles and dilemmas that stand in its way. These obstacles require further scrutiny and we will briefly look at three: 1) contextual dilemmas; 2) rhetorics of intransigence; and 3) epistemic injustice.

The first difficulty arises from the context because most modern democracies empirically-speaking, come into being not as a result of a pre-existing consensus on shared or basic values “but rather because various groups that had been at each other’s throats for a prolonged period had to recognize their mutual inability to achieve dominance. Tolerance and acceptance of pluralism resulted eventually from a standoff between bitterly hostile opposing groups.” (Hirschman 1991).

One will be forgiven for thinking that Hirschman had South Africa in his mind when he wrote this, for in trying to understand this as well as his later descriptions of the nature and the rise of conservative, neo-conservative and reactionary politics that flows from such standoffs and subsequent transitions, one cannot but notice the relevance of this and of what he observes next:

“A people that only yesterday was engaged in fratricidal struggles is not likely to settle down overnight to those constructive give-and-take deliberations. Far more likely, there will initially be agreement to disagree, but without any attempt at melding the opposing points of view— that is indeed the nature of religious tolerance. Or, if there is discussion, it will be a typical “dialogue of the deaf”— a dialogue that will in fact long function as a prolongation of, and a substitute for, civil war. Even in the most “advanced” democracies, many debates are, to paraphrase Clausewitz, a “continuation of civil war with other means.” Such debates, with each party on the lookout for arguments that kill, are only too familiar from democratic politics as usual. There remains then a long and difficult road to be traveled from the traditional internecine, intransigent discourse to a more “democracy-friendly” kind of dialogue. For those wishing to undertake this expedition there should be value in knowing about a few danger signals, such as arguments that are in effect contraptions specifically designed to make dialogue and deliberation impossible.”

Secondly, these arguments, contraptions and rhetorics of intransigence that block social change – transformation in South African parlance – and make sound deliberation impossible, can be defined, according to Hirschman (1991), as three reactionary narratives: 1) the perversity narrative in which policies or actions intended to effect socio-political and economic change are portrayed as having the opposite effect; 2) the futility narrative in which all attempts at transformation are portrayed as likely to fail creating a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy and negative-expectancy behavior; and 3) a jeopardy narrative in which the costs of transformation are portrayed as too high and as endangering some previously achieved accomplishment.

But if we need to broaden our conception of freedom, then what about our conception of justice? For a lot has recently been said about freedom but much less – if anything – about justice. From Charlie Hebdos insistence on its supposed freedom and right to publish offensive religious symbols – even in the face of vociferous protestations – to debates about press freedom in South Africa and the right of journalists to express their political views freely albeit in a playful, social manner.

What is ignored is often more telling than what is said.

This point was not lost on African political observers, many of whom have remarked on the disproportionate media coverage given to violent events in Paris relative to similar violent events – but with much higher casualty rates – at roughly the same time in Nigeria; all perpetrated in the name of one or the other religion as such atrocities often are.

What then politically-speaking, is at play here? For this discursive game is not at all innocent but reflects quite vividly the underlying power relations in our society battling to transform itself away from an unjust to a just society: away from the evils of the past: discrimination, exclusion, violence, paternalism, patriarchy, inequality, dispossession and domination. In this sense, our democratic Constitution, based on the Freedom Charter and the wide consensus of our society, not only embodies what we mean by a “free and just society” but also calls upon all citizens to actively and practically transform our lives individually and collectively in this ongoing process.

Freedom must not come at the expense of justice.

The philosopher Amartaya SEN in his book “The Idea of Justice” argues that “We may often enough agree that some changes contemplated – like the abolition of apartheid, to give an example of a different kind – will reduce injustice, but even if all such agreed changes are successfully implemented, we will not have anything that we can call perfect justice. Practical concerns, no less than theoretical reasoning, seem to demand a fairly radical departure in the analysis of justice.” This call for a critical analysis of justice; and implicitly of freedom and of the relation between these two concepts, brings us to the third and last obstacle towards an inclusive and deliberative democracy: epistemic injustice.

What does epistemic justice entail? According to Free State University academic Tania Rauch-Van der Merwe in her provocative and insightful new study entitled “The political construction of occupational therapy: A critical discourse analysis of curriculum as discourse” and drawing on the work of Miranda Fricker, Nancy Fraser and Michel Foucault, epistemic injustice entails the unexamined a-priori assumption – often imbedded within discreet discourses of superiority and domination – that some groups of people such as women or blacks (or the poor or African?) are illegitimate or less-legitimate “bearers of truths” (Rauch-Van der Merwe) or “carriers of knowledge” (Fricker).

It’s importance derives from the simple fact that in a deliberative democracy where diverse opinions, the inclusion of marginal or excluded voices, and non-paternalistic modes of communication are critical transformative acts, epistemic injustices remain a major if hidden obstacle to making progress away from societal injustice and towards an undoing of forms of discursive domination that curtails freedom and negatively impacts on the potential for greater justice.

My contention is that such forms of epistemic injustices – a residual form of domination and therefore of un-freedom – are widespread in the South African media, public discourses and knowledge work. The opinions of white or male intellectuals and journalists in public debates frequently carry more weight than those of black or female intellectuals. If we want to move towards greater social cohesion and a society that is both free and just, then creating space for more rational, sober, inclusive and self-critical public debate, must become a priority. A free press and the media must play a central role in doing so but it will require that we all as citizens and as a society, honestly address the pernicious obstacles to real democratic deliberation and transformation that face us: the contextual dilemmas of our violent and divisive past; the rhetorics of intransigence to transform it; and the unfreedom that derives from pervasive and ongoing epistemic injustice.

But first, what masquerades as public debates or deliberation must cease to be conducted as though they are the continuation of civil strife and war by other means; we are equal citizens and not enemies after-all.





NATIONAL SECURITY: navigating the coming rough seas between the USA and China

Part 1: America


“The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking.” Clausewitz

Will China and America cooperate, compete or go to war?

The emerging geo-political great game between the USA and China is of great importance to Africa and South Africa. How this great power relationship unfolds will have a commanding influence on the 21st century. As it intensifies, it will remind us that ideology, politics, strategy, money and geography matter; that history has not ended.

The South African Government will have to ensure that South African foreign, security and intelligence policy and strategy consider these developments continuously as they unfold. The recently released Defense Review is therefore significant and timely…

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DEVELOPMENT: The Democratic Developmental State in South Africa

The Democratic Developmental State in South Africa post-2014: the path ahead: Part 1/3



The African National Congress (ANC) continues to receive – as demonstrated by the outcome of the recent national elections in the May 2014 – an overwhelming political mandate to govern the country and implement its election Manifesto. It is therefore timeous and apt that we ask: will South Africa continue to move closer to becoming a developmental state? And if so, what will be its purpose, character and impact?

In this series of three articles, we will explore these questions as well as take a closer look at the background and genealogy of this idea; some misconceptions about it; look at some comparative examples; assess how far we have come on this journey in South Africa particularly through the building of a capable State and an effective, efficient and ethical Public Administration; and finally we will attempt to look ahead.

The electoral mandate received by the ANC is democratic and political. Consequently in discussing issues of development, the economy and the state, we must also focus on the relationship between the people, the political and the economic – or the political-economy – and the domestic, regional and international contexts. In interaction these components can be observed, conceptualized and described as a complex and dynamical – therefore heterarchical – system in which the notion of the Developmental State must be centrally located. Our democratic Constitution, conceived upon a similar notion – three interacting, equal spheres – functions from such a philosophical perspective as well, hence there is not only a suitable conceptual and practical fit, but we also avoid thinking along narrow economistic and reductionist lines.

It is also necessary to mention this at the start in order to clearly differentiate this discussion about the South African developmental state from previous historical debates and examples of hierarchical, static, state-directed, centrally planned and often socialist, alternatives. This should not necessarily be interpreted as taking an ideological position about economic values – much is wrong with capitalism – but rather as an attempt to reflect on how to make optimal use of political power in the current conjuncture and context. Or in other words, how to best give expression to the idea that “the people shall govern” by effectively and efficiently implementing the political mandate that the voters of South Africa has just given the ANC through the free expression of their will in Constitutionally proscribed democratic elections. Our developmental state, given this reality, must therefore of necessity, also be a democratic one; we cannot simplistically try to imitate or transplant authoritarian versions from other contexts.

Moreover, in as far as development is concerned, there is a Constitutional imperative that is not often mentioned or discussed. The Constitution (Chapter 10) requires the State to be developmental in its orientation, and that the country must pursue substantive equality. This was eloquently analyzed by Chief Justice Pius LANGA in his 2006 Public Lecture (Stellenbosch) on the radical or transformative nature of our democratic Constitution.

The concept of and the rationale for the democratic developmental state in South Africa is therefore not in dispute: fast, sustained and inclusive growth; moving the most populous part of our dual economy – Black and poor – out of underdevelopment caused by colonial and apartheid dispossession; historical catch-up with developed economies by our national economy as a whole; and building competitiveness into the future. With the polity in South Africa having been fully democratized, key sectors of the economy however still largely function on the basis of cheap African and migrant labour from rural areas – precisely how the colonial and apartheid economies were built – and so the structure of the South African political-economy will have to be fundamentally changed, reformed and retooled.

A democratic developmental State will allow us to do so in an orderly and planned fashion, as we – through targeted State intervention – build a new majority-Black industrial class whilst at the same time expanding, diversifying and growing our industrial base. The twin pressures of a democratized polity and global competition in open markets, create two iron cages from which no Government or political party can insulate itself when it considers its economic policy or political performance.

In this respect I will argue in this Series that the democratic developmental State is a national priority ideally suited as the framework around which an inclusive National Compact can be successfully and productively negotiated and constructed. By combining this with a strategy of industrialization through regional integration – the latter already the consensus position in the African Union – the ANC Government will smartly leverage the investments it has made in Continental renewal over the last 20 years, and which are now beating fruit.

Background and Context

Some initial remarks about the context, both historical and contemporary, are important. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War and at the height of neo-liberal triumphalism, it was impossible to raise any critique of free-market capitalism. As Wendy BROWN perceptively argued in her 2003 Essay entitled “Neo-liberalism and the end of liberal democracy”, the logic of the market had not only penetrated spheres where it did not belong – for example the public sphere that pursues the common (not private) good and which must protect or empower the weak against the strong – but also imposed a new form of rationality. Neo-liberalism is generally understood to be the repudiation and replacement of Keynesian welfare state economics with the deregulated, free-market or private sector capitalism associated with Hayek and the Chicago School of political economy. It is also closely associated with the phenomenon that came to be called “globalization”.

As BROWN pointed out: “The neo in neo-liberalism, however, establishes these principles (pre-Keynesian assumptions about the generation of wealth and its distribution) on a significantly different analytic basis as set forth by Adam Smith…Moreover, neo-liberalism is not simply a set of economic policies; it is not only about facilitating free trade, maximizing corporate profits, and changing welfarism. Rather neo-liberalism carries a social analysis, that, when deployed as a form of governmentality, reaches from the soul of the citizen-subject to education policy to practices of empire. Neo-liberal rationality, while foregrounding the market, is not only or even primarily focused on the economy; it involves extending and disseminating market values to all institutional and social action, even as the market itself remains a distinctive player”. Wendy Brown: Edgework; pp. 39-40)

Earlier in 1989 in an essay published in The National Interest under the title “The End of History?” Francis FUKUYAMA asked whether we had arrived in a post-ideological world and the triumph of liberal democracy. The ensuing debate gave politics, political agency and the State a bad name and for a while it seemed as though the world was doomed to live the nightmare of market fundamentalism, conservative realism, financialization, militarism and rapidly escalating inequality. For Africa, this situation would have meant remaining locked in the colonial and post-colonial state of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment; a situation that under conditions of democracy, would automatically and rapidly lead to any Government presiding over such a situation, being unceremoniously voted out. The intricate and tenuous relationship between the people, politics in the form of democracy, economics in the form of free-market capitalism and the context quickly became apparent.

In that post Cold War period of conservative liberal – if not belligerent American – hegemony, South Africa and Africa had to steer a very careful course, given the then balance-of-forces internationally and in the case of South Africa, domestically. It was a most dangerous period fraught with enormous risks. The ANC Government realized early on that both the NDR and the project of a developmental state were political, strategic, context-sensitive and would have to be constructed through patience and human agency, effort and ingenuity.

American unipolarity and triumphalist belligerence, gave rise to a conservative liberal orthodoxy which came to be known as the Washington Consensus. It is important to note that the origin and history of the key body of policy measures that came to be known as the Washington Consensus, remains contested. Whilst the British economist John WILLIAMSON claimed that “the story started in the Spring of 1989 when I was testifying before a Congressional committee in favor of the Brady Plan. I argued that it would be good policy to help the debtor countries overcome their debt burden now that they were making profound changes in economic policy, along the lines advocated by Balassa, Bueno, Kuczynski, and Simonsen (1986)”; none other than Joseph STIGLITZ highlighted the fact that the key policy measures contained in the Washington Consensus, actually originated in the rational response of some South American countries to the objective political-economic and social conditions they faced at the time. Regardless of its origins, one of the enduring legacies of the Washington Consensus and how it was politically wielded on the international stage by the USA and other developed countries, was that the State was discredited and fingered as a key problem; particularly when it came to economic and developmental issues. Through viciously policed Structural Adjustment Programs, developed countries coerced developing countries into pursuing the withdrawal and weakening of its States; the deregulation and opening of its markets,; the privatization of its public assets; the reduction of its public debt and the “toeing of the line” internationally.

When the African National Congress became the first democratically elected, and therefore legitimate, Government in the history of South Africa in 1994, it inherited not only a country steeped in racism, division, fragmentation, violent strife, inequality and poverty but also one with an empty fiscus, a large public debt, a dual economy with one part developed and living off an underdeveloped part.

As far back as in its 1997 Discussion Paper entitled “Developing Strategic Perspective on South African Foreign Policy”, the ANC conceptually linked the people, democracy, development and the context; both domestic and international. In what was to become known as the “African Renaissance”, the Discussion Document presciently sets out the following strategic agenda:

1. The recovery of the African continent as a whole
2. The establishment of political democracy on the continent
3. The need to break neo-colonial relations between Africa and the world’s economic powers
4. The mobilization of the people of Africa to take their destiny into their hands thus preventing the continent being seen as a place for the attainment of the geo-political and strategic interests of the world’s most powerful countries; and
5. The need for fast development of people-driven and people-centered economic growth and development aimed at meeting the basic needs of the people.

From an ideological perspective, the implicit anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal stance, emerging from the liberation struggles of the African continent against foreign domination and underdevelopment, in these positions are self-evident and need no further emphasis at this stage. We will however return to these at a later stage as they are central to contentious contemporary debates about the South African economy, growth, industrialization and development.

The ANC and the Developmental State

By 2007 the ANC had articulated its understanding of the Developmental State with specific South African characteristics, and defined its key features:

• The first attribute of a developmental state in our conditions should be its strategic orientation: an approach premised on people-centered and people-driven change, and sustained development based on high growth rates, restructuring of the economy and socio- economic inclusion.

• The second attribute of a developmental state should be its capacity to lead in the definition of a common national agenda and in mobilizing all of society to take part in its implementation. Therefore, such a state should have effective systems of interaction with all social partners, and exercise leadership informed by its popular mandate.

• The third attribute should be the state’s organizational capacity: ensuring that its structures and systems facilitate realization of a set agenda. Thus, issues of macro-organization of the state will continue to receive attention. These include permutations among policy and implementation organs within each sphere, allocation of responsibilities across the spheres, effective inter-governmental relations and stability of the management system.

• The fourth attribute should be its technical capacity: the ability to translate broad objectives into programs and projects and to ensure their implementation. This depends among others on the proper training, orientation and leadership of the public service, and on acquiring and retaining skilled personnel.”

Importantly it also went on to emphasize three additional tasks:

1. Developing the capability to intervene in the economy in the interest of higher rates of growth and development
2. Effecting interventions that address the challenges of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment
3. Mobilizing the people as a whole, especially the poor, to act as their own liberators through participatory and representative democracy

Following vigorous internal debates and linking the developmental state to the National Democratic a Revolution (NDR), a senior ANC leader at the time – Alec ERWIN – observed:

“A key point will be that neither the NDR nor a developmental state can be taken for granted. It is absolutely essential to understand the complexity of these phenomena. Neither of them can be treated as technical matters that can be brought into existence by political decisions and institutional changes alone, although both of these are important. An NDR is a historically defined possibility requiring a particular conjuncture of class forces. A developmental state is not some stage of development in state formation or a blueprint of governance. A developmental state comes into being when a political movement can translate its political power into a set of institutions that support developmental processes which can be sustained over decades.”
Alec ERWIN: The Developmental a state and the National Democratic Revolution in Ben TUROK (Ed): Wealth doesn’t trickle down: the case for the developmental state in South Africa; p.129; 2008.

ERWIN then went on to argue that even when an appropriate conjuncture for the NDR and for a developmental state may exist, it will not be brought into being in the absence of “strategic and sustained political leadership. This aspect is of great importance, particularly as the consensus in the literature and theory of the developmental state is that it needs to be constructed, usually under adverse conditions, and that a development-oriented leadership, governance and strategy is therefore one of several critical variables for success.

These factors connect the developmental state and statecraft directly: before one talks about a capable State one needs to talk about a competent Government. Sun Tzu in explaining the five factors that will determine victory or defeat in war, placed a particular emphasis on Statecraft too.

By the 2010 National General Council, the ANC Discussion document on economic transformation had concluded that “implementing a more effective development strategy requires a developmental state, in the sense of a state that can co-ordinate all its efforts around core developmental priorities and implement its programs efficiently. A particular problem is that groups with economic power can lobby the state, or even corrupt officials, to achieve favorable policies at the cost of broader transformation. The pressure comes mostly from large companies, backed by threats of disinvestment, and from black entrepreneurs, who use their personal contacts and the claim of equity to obtain political back up and funding.” The National Planning Commission, which had been established in 2009 to design a National Development Plan, launched its Plan in 2012 after extensive, inclusive if not sometimes rancorous debate, division and contestation. The DPSA started the process of building a capable State that is corruption-free, professional, effective, efficient and ethical. In other words, we can conclude that South Africa has already embarked on the journey of building a democratic developmental state – quite an extraordinary achievement given the short space of time and complexity of the task.


It is always useful to start a discussion by clarifying what meanings we ascribe to some of the key concepts that are central to this series. Concepts, as social constructs and linguistic expressions of ideas in ordinary language, can and do, within certain limitations, have different meanings and the particular meanings used, often reflect ideological preferences, contextual realities and power relationships. Their meanings are not fixed but under conditions of hegemony, some singular, specific meaning may be accorded exclusive preference which will make it seem or appear natural. The definition of a meaning is therefore itself a political act – of this we are acutely aware ourselves – and it is therefore also in the interest of transparency that we lay bare the meanings we attribute to different ideas and concepts.

In the next installment in this series, we will look at the concept of a democratic developmental State and highlight some surprising and counter-intuitive aspects of it.