Opinion: Creating a new window of possibility to drive transformation

By Tshetlhe Litheko.

The renaissance writer famously said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

If the objective of transformation is to achieve the following seven part goal as espoused by the ANC ready to govern document:

  • the creation of a non-racial society;
  • the creation of a non-sexist society;
  • the entrenchment and defence of the democratic order, as reflected in our National Constitution;
  • the restructuring, modernisation and development of our economy to create a prosperous society, characterised by the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment, and a shared prosperity;
  • the implementation of social policies consistent with the preceding goals;
  • the transformation of the state machinery to ensure that we build a developmental state; and,
  • the Renaissance of Africa and the building of a better world, focused on the challenge to defeat global poverty, underdevelopment and inequality.

Then, can it be acknowledged that SA is in the shallows and in misery for missing a high tide of a decade ago to drive the transformation agenda. Empirically it was easier to navigate the country towards progress, despite inherent imbalances and adversities of the time than it would be from the current position. This I say without being biased to any political view for the country, but reflecting on three ideas that should shape transformation in both nominal and real terms for the country we now need to rebuild.


Overton Window of Possibility

The biggest challenge standing as an obstacle to transformation will always be political will. Transformation should in essence be driven by a set of policies geared to achieve, the objectives as set above. These objectives however, should present a set of challenges that would require adjustments, dialogues and further legislation. However imagine for a second that such a window to address the set policy objectives and subsequent areas of debates is misplaced because all concerns and national interest are on a second issue deemed to be more important. In this case, it would be corruption, and its related manifestations such as state capture, lack of corporate governance, and the ilk of the ruling class.

The idea above is referred to as the Overton Window of Possibility. The essence of the Overton window is that only a portion of policies are within the realm of the political possibility at any time. Regardless of how vigorously other ideas may be advocated or other groups may campaign only policy initiatives within the preferred or immediate window of the politically possible will be met with success.

Thus in South Africa we are yet to tabulate legal actions with the same vigour and success around achieving economic advancement for all as we do for corruption and related issues. Our application to the fight against poverty is still relegated to the forth conversation against, the current window. Even when transformation issues make headlines, they can easily be dismissed as ineptitude, as purveyed by the mining chamber against the new mining charter; or as corruption, as suggested by Anton Rupert on Radical Economic Transformation.


Measuring Transformation

The other challenge is that transformation is measured in terms that are not friendly to cross cultural human dialogues. In fact the biggest setback on transformation is the need for a political correct language to circumnavigate the challenges facing our society. Imagine the amount of time spent in debating ideas such as, “racializing or not racializing inequality”; “Defining a new Class war in South Africa”; “defining what would constitute reverse racism” and so forth. Time wasted in these debates undermines the need to work on the challenges facing the country, and the biggest transformation of all is delayed. The transformation of the mind, demonstrated by a will from all South Africans to make the country work for all.

StatsSA over the past three years has implored South Africans to consider Demographic dividend and its underlining messages, to formulate a big data comprehension of the need for transformation in South Africa. Demographic dividend occurs when the proportion of working people in the total population is high because this indicates that more people have the potential to be productive and contribute to growth of the economy. In SA the working-age ratio increased from 55% in 1960 to 65% in 2010. These changes reflect a demographic transition in favour of a demographic dividend. We have more people in SA in the age where they can support all those of non-working age.

How, in this high dividend is also a curse for SA. SA’s high unemployment is particularly severe amongst the black African population. There are vast differences between population groups in terms of unemployment, with little change in the pattern between them in recent years. On the expanded definition there were 8 million unemployed black Africans in 2016 (unemployment rate of 41%). There were 0,6 million coloureds unemployed (28% unemployment rate), 0,1 million Indians/Asians (17%), and 0,2 million whites (9%). Unemployment is particularly severe amongst black African youth aged 15 to 34, with over 5 million unemployed in 2016 (53% unemployment rate).

Thus in essence a true measure for Transform is the ability for working age South Africans to be economically active. This burden is more pronounced on the black demographic and it’s not racializing the issue, but reflecting facts as they stand today.


Picking low hanging fruits

If the challenge is this simple, surely setting a policy framework to achieve following goals should be topical for us as a country today, just as much as corruption:

  • Expanding access to post matric education, for current and future generations of young people through:
    • The creation of a technology supported community college system
    • Expanding open learning by getting current institutions to license online programmes
    • Finalising internationalisation policy for the country to develop future-proof and internationally-ready graduates
    • Finalising a framework supporting currently financially overburdened students in our institutions. Putting the to rest the underlying issues in #FeesMustFall
  • Establishing a business start-up success index. SAs industrialisation programme geared for big business and thus supports historic performance. Introducing a start-up success index will lead to deliberate actions of smoothing the way for small business to flourish. Also challenge the highest failure rates of new SMEs estimated 75% by SEDA.
  • Finalising a compact of co-operation between the public and private sectors around the following challenges:
    • Making broadband services widely available at affordable costs to the population and the underprivileged
    • Critical infrastructure necessary for fourth-generation industrialisation
    • Promoting a level playing-fields and co-operation between old and new sector participants
    • resolving policy uncertainty and acrimony
  • The professionalization of the public sector both at the Government level and State Owned Companies level.

I know these issues do become topical in isolation of each other in our everyday discuss. I am however suggesting that, there is a need to create a window to address and defeat poverty in our country. Such a journey starts with a political will to do so. And those running for the Presidency of the ANC in coming weeks, I would like to suggest that the equation is this simple.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Transform SA

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