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‘Second transition’ is non-existent

Date Released: Thu, 2 August 2012 15:59 +0200

According to venerated political analyst, Professor Steven Friedman, South Africa is not in a second transition, because we haven’t actually seen the first one.

In his talk entitled, “The fault lies not in our transition but in ourselves: The second transition and the deflection of responsibility”, Friedman debunked the myth that our country is in a second transition, as the government failed to implement the first one after 1994.

To make sense of the issues at hand, Friedman explained that the policy document tabled at the 53rd ANC National Conference in 2012 cannot not be read in isolation. It needs to be read in conjunction with the Minister of Finance’s budget speech, which he believes to be a far clearer statement of the government’s intentions.

In his view, the government (and by implication the ANC) is facing a crisis of credibility, because people who usually supported them are no longer comfortable with the direction the party has taken. The solution, it seems, is the government's scramble to become far more aggressive in dealing with poverty and inequality.

This was not particularly controversial, says Friedman, but the problem lies in the government’s stance on the functions of the state.
He explained that the ANC-led government viewed the state as an instrument of government; “a machine that if you pressed all the right buttons, everything would work”.

History of failure

This was the approach that dominated government-thinking when it developed the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Friedman noted that although it was lauded at the time, the RDP was nevertheless a failure because the government did not ask the citizens of this country what they wanted.

As a result, South Africa did not in fact experience a first transition. It was premature to begin talking about a second transition when there remain serious constraints on including the majority of South Africans in the broader economy.

Recent service delivery protests were testament to this fact, and Friedman suggested that a more appropriate way to view a state is as a system of relationships rather than a machine.

He added that a majority of those in government are aware that the instrumentalist view of the state is flawed; hence the dearth of concrete proposals in the Second Transition document.

Friedman concluded, “Ultimately the state cannot govern unless it is in a relationship with social activists and is willing to engage in constructive negotiation with those who are trying to effect change.”

•    This article appeared on Grocott’s Mail online

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