Address by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to the 2nd Africa Participatory Democracy Conference on the Theme: “Our Conception of Democracy in Africa: Tasks and Challenges”, 19-20 August 2010, Johannesburg

Program Director
Comrade Blade Nzimande
SACP and Alliance leadership and the entire membership
Leaders of fraternal parties present here today
Distinguished participants
Ladies and gentlemen
Africa is at the crossroad today – between the rich experience of the last fifty years since our independence, and opportunities and challenges ahead of us in our march to claiming the 21st century.
The verdict of how we have performed as a continent over the past fifty years is out there for all to see.  While some Asian countries like China and India are on the rise, even taking a lead in pulling us out of the current economic crisis, our continent is struggling to meet the Millennium Development Goals aimed at combating poverty, disease and ignorance.  While some Latin American countries like Brazil count themselves among emerging global giants, our continent is yet to reverse the tide of underdevelopment and poverty facing the peoples of our continent.

Many have blamed this situation in Africa on our governments (and the state in general) and what they perceive as the lack of democracy.  This conference is therefore a platform for progressives and the Left in Africa and the world, to engage this ongoing debate on the nature of the state in Africa, including challenges of democracy. 

I am also encouraged that our focus at this conference will not be confined to the diagnosis of our situation and challenges confronting us only, but will also attempt to reflect on tasks and concrete steps each one of us can take – individually and collectively through our organizations – to be part of our march to claiming the 21st century as the century of Africa.

My topic, Program Director, is on: “Challenges for the State in Africa: Tasks and Opportunities for Progressives and the Left”.

Indeed, the African state has been dismissed by some critics as predatory because of its political elite whose agenda is driven by what these critics call “the politics of the belly”, instead of serving the people.  These critics even go to the extent of dismissing the legacy of colonialism as a factor behind Africa’s current predicament.  They argue that the character of states on our continent today mirror pre-colonial African empires whose governments it is claimed feasted on the blood of the people, and were used by their leaders to distribute patronage and buy favours.  What we have today in Africa, according to these critics, are weak and failed states that cannot perform the basics of a modern state to deliver on the needs of their people.

At the other end of this debate are those who blame everything wrong about our state on the colonial legacy and neo-colonialism.  To advocates of this position, African states are by and large led by a comprador bourgeoisie whose role is to perpetuate neo-colonial interests on behalf of their masters in the North.  This self-serving comprador class, according to this view, enjoys the protection of their masters and Transnational Corporations who stand to gain from the underdevelopment of our countries.

To me, the answer to this difficult question lies somewhere in the middle.   Nothing can compare to what European colonialism did to our continent.  Not only did it fail to develop our economies and countries; it also could not build institutions on which to create a well functioning, modern state capable to deliver on its challenges.  The well being of our people, including their educational advancement, was also subordinated to the interests of greed and plunder whose legacy remain visible to this day in the road and rail infrastructure whose sole purpose was to export raw materials from our continent.  No sensible person, in my view, can talk about challenges facing the African state today without invoking the painful memories of colonialism.  This is a fact that is difficult to deny.

At the same time, however, we have to admit that had we had a strong contingent of progressive and Left forces on this continent, perhaps the experience of the last fifty years would have been different.  No one can deny that this would not have been easy in a Cold War context that was characterized by the assassination of progressive leaders and the toppling of governments that attempted programs that were aimed at negating the legacy of colonialism. 

There is here both the objective factor of our neo-colonial reality, and the subjective factor of the relative weakness of African progressive forces compared to their counterparts in other parts of the developing world.

Therefore in thinking about the fifty years behind us and their impact on the nature and content of the African state, we have to give prominence in our analysis to this twin heritage – that’s is: the legacy of colonialism and the Cold War context that sabotaged any progressive attempts on our continent.

We have indeed been trying to reverse this legacy, especially over the last ten years (or so) that gave birth to the African Union and its program of NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

These – the heritage of the legacies of colonialism and the Cold War, and our efforts of the last ten years – constitute the context within which we should examine the challenges facing the African state today and possible action areas for progressives.

Program Director
There are four competing perspectives about the role of the state in Africa and other developing parts of the world which should be taken into account as we move forward and contemplate strategic interventions for progressive forces.

Firstly, is a perspective that puts nation-building and economic development before the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights.  This is a perspective that wants to see strong and effective states in charge of our countries, driving development and economic prosperity, while our people are denied the freedom of association and the right to speak out against injustice.  This is an approach that produced remarkable results in other parts of the word, but should not be encouraged on this continent.  To us, the socio-economic development of our countries and the promotion of socio-economic rights, cannot be at the expense of and separated from the political rights of our people.

The second perspective reduces the complex challenges of the state to what is called “good governance”.  I must say that there is nothing wrong with good governance; and indeed we have spoken out in its favour as the South African Government and in our work in the NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism.    But we cannot reduce the work of the state simply to austerity measures and other technocratic variables of public management. 

This is what the Structural Adjustment Programmes of the 1980s and early 1990s were trying to do, and they failed in this mission with disastrous consequences for our state institutions, public service morale, and the delivery of public goods.  From our perspective as progressives, the work of government must be centered on the plight of our people for a better life.

The third perspective tries to harness African traditional institutions to improve the functioning of the state and reach out to communities in remote parts of our respective countries.  This effort should be encouraged within the context of democratic principles underpinning our progressive understanding of the state. Traditional institutions – if well positioned and resourced – can go a long way in assisting governments develop local communities and deliver to the people.  One danger we should guard against however, is to romanticize these traditional institutions to the point of turning a blind eye to their strategic and ideological weaknesses.

Finally, is the perspective that is rife in some parts of our continent that is informed by an ambition aimed at building a strong civil society as an alternative to the state.  There is nothing wrong with an active, strong and vibrant civil society – this should be encouraged.    Indeed, this civil society was also central to the democratization wave that transformed the African state for the better in the course of the 1990s.  They are a positive force necessary for Africa’s renewal.  But civil society should partner with the state for our good cause, because what we want to achieve on this continent cannot be the task of governments alone. 

In playing its role, our civil society has to be rooted among the people, in communities.  Unfortunately, and because of our relative weakness as progressives, the civil society movement on this continent is dominated by Non-Governmental Organization that are mostly funded from outside Africa – instead of Community-Based Organizations, trade unions, and peasants organizations (for example).  These progressive layers of the civil society movement have to be strengthened by ourselves, not by outsiders.

This then brings me to what I think are the tasks facing us as progressives and Left forces in the context of the theme of this conference.

We have to continue to build developmental states throughout our continent – states that have the capacity to control their territory, consolidate our nations and Pan-African unity, develop our economies, and deliver on expectations of our people.  These states must be about and for the people.

We should build on our experience and gains of the past.  One lesson here is that we cannot hope to build sustainable countries (and states) solely on the basis of resources from our external development partners.  Our developmental states must be self-reliant and self-sustaining, supported by strong economies with a solid industrial base. 

In this respect, it is our strategic task to develop our forces of production, including taking a lead in land and agrarian reform and building our capacity to beneficiate our raw materials for domestic use and export.  Continent-wide industrialization, including taking control of our raw materials through beneficiation, will give impetus to our current drive to improve intra-trade among African countries.

At the level of communities, we have to build and strengthen institutions, systems and processes that promote local democracy and broad participation. 

In the case of South Africa, for example, the basic political pillar of the post-1994 democratic state is that of people-centred and people-driven government.   Our definition of developmental local government is informed by the principle of what we call “working with citizens and communities”. Our long term vision of the democratic state is developmental in nature.

Our ward committee system is aimed at giving expression to people-centred government and deepening community and public participation at a local level. Presently, there are 3895 wards demarcated across municipalities in the country. This is likely to increase to over 4200 wards after the 2011 local government elections.

We are currently improving on our ward committee system to tackle challenges such as its voluntary nature, their poor functionality and accountability to communities, the limited allocation of resources for their establishment and operations, and their poor coordination with other local structures like the Community Safety Forums, School Governing Boards, and the system of Community Development Workers.

Our objective is to refine these ward committees to make them more developmental, accountable, participatory, and depoliticized.

Program Director
The nature and content of states we want for our continent for a better Africa and a better world will have to take into account the likely impact that our regional integration agenda will have on the sovereignty of our respective countries.
At the continental level, the processes of building an effective African Union will over time result in the surrender of some of the functions of the state at national level to the continental body.  When the African Union takes decisions or come up with protocols that we ratify – these have to be respected by all of us and domesticated in our countries.

The same applies to Regional Economic Communities like our SADC.  Some of these organizations have even taken bold steps towards the creation of Free Trade Areas and Custom Unions – with the long-term objective of building an African Economic Community.

In the case of SADC, we have just concluded a successful Summit in Windhoek where (among others) we committed ourselves to renewing our collective energy and resources towards the full implementation of the SADC Trade Protocol, in support of the consolidation of the Free Trade Area.  We have already achieved much in terms of trade liberalization in this region, but relatively little in production and industrial development.

We noted with concern the huge amount of work required by SADC in effectively overcoming the daunting challenges faced by the region in bridging the limitations posed by low production capacity and lack of supporting infrastructure.

Our view is that market access alone is not enough to ensure the sustainable economic growth and development of the Southern African region. It is imperative that it be supplemented by the development of new industries and regional value chains, specifically to address supply side constraints and spur diversification, as well as cross-border infrastructural development.

Our success in overcoming this daunting challenge as SADC has serious implications for states in our region – in the long-term.  This is not necessarily negative for us because, as progressives on this continent, we have always been Pan-Africanist and internationalist at heart.

We should also anticipate that the expected rise in the next two decades of countries of the South like China, India and Brazil - coupled with the relative decline of the West - will tamper with the current global balance of forces.  This likely change in the global political economy could be an opportunity for us if we have in place, in our countries, progressive developmental states of the nature we discussed above.

Program Director
There are six cardinal principles that hundreds of years of our struggle for a better life in all corners of the globe has taught us.

The first is that we have to do what some call “capture the state”.  We cannot remain forever on the margins of society – in protest groups and other organs of civil society.  We have to enter the state, be in government, through democratic means.

Second, we have learnt that we enter government not as an end in itself, but to serve our people for a better life.

Third, when we are in government, we have to transform state institutions, the society and the economy we inherit in line with our progressive vision and mission.  Those of us who failed in this domain, did so at their own peril.   You will recall that this is one of the reasons singled out by Karl Marx for the collapse of the short-lived Paris Commune in the 19th century.

Fourth, that in transforming the state, society and economy we should expect those who will be negatively affected to resist – in some instances even resort to violent counter-revolutionary acts of sabotage.  These forces must be engaged through democratic means, and where possible, be won over to our agenda.

Fifth, our own cadreship and leadership have to be politically educated on constant basis on what we stand for and what we want to achieve so that they remain focused on our mission.  This will help discourage the tendency towards using the state for self-enrichment and patronage.  The loss of our moral compass within our ranks can bring down our organizations and weaken our hegemony in society.

Finally, we must always remember that we are not alone on this continent or in the world – we are part of the Pan-Africanist and internationalist movement for a better life. We therefore have to work hard, and together, to marshal these motive forces for change, in African and globally.  Our organizations must be strong on the ground, with a leadership that is time-tested and committed to our cause.  Our ideological orientation must help us respond to challenges before us and provide answers; and programmes we opt for have to be sound and relevant to the tasks at hand.

However, organizational strength, ideological sharpness, high-quality leadership, and sound programmes of action – are not sufficient on their own without the support of our masses.   We need all these pillars in place if we are to accede to the state; let alone remain in political office for a considerable period in order to transform our countries profoundly. 

We also need to know the who and the what constitute progressive and Left forces in Africa, and what should be our consensus program of action.  For example, while we have a common understanding of what Social Democrats in Europe stand for, the same cannot be said about the progressive agenda in Africa.  

We therefore need to continue to improve our common understand of who are the Left or progressives in Africa, and what these constituencies stand for – what is their common platform.  This is a weakness whose correction will help make it possible for us to work together, effectively, towards our common goal.

If there is to be any next step out of this conference, I suggest we advise on these two questions – that is: the definition of the Left and progressives in the African context, and what could constitute our minimum platform of action. This will go a long way in helping us identify the forces to mobilise and an agenda to implement once we are in government.

In this regard, I look forward to the outcomes of this conference as they will be an opportunity for us to find answers that will reinforce our march to claiming the 21st century.  The past fifty years of our independence have given us a peep into the future.  Our task now is to build this better future that we all want for our people.

As one Africa proverb says: “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors”. Trying times are for the hardened and the time-tested – for warriors like all of us gathered here today!

I thank you.

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