Editorial, Issue 1


I am very pleased to bring you this, the first edition of the SA Reconciliation Barometer newsletter of 2011. We at the Institute have already accomplished a great deal in the first quarter of this year, including the very successful launch of the 2010 Transformation Audit and a new series of youth-produced documentary films entitled, African Identities: Shades of Belonging.

However, in the midst of this hard work we remain attuned to the challenges South Africa faces at present in our continued work to build an inclusive, equitable and participatory democracy.

In the early days of this year, we watched with rapt attention as a growing pro-democracy movement built in momentum across the Middle East and North Africa. The tragic suicide of Mohamed Buoazizi outside a municipal office in Tunisia, far more than a lonesome individual act, inspired the angry and exhilarated throngs of Tahrir Square, Algiers, Basraa, Amman, Sana’a, and so many other towns and cities across the region. However, while a relatively peaceful Egyptian transition brought hope to the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, we wait with trepidation for a quick conclusion to the mounting conflict in Libya.

The rapid generation of the ‘Arab Spring’ – its accelerated pace attributed in part to use of new social media – has provoked questions both internationally and within South Africa about whether its impetus could spread to other regions, and indeed further south. Recent protests against what many view as an excessive and unresponsive monarchy in deeply impoverished Swaziland signal that this may in fact be the case.

When asked by journalists, curious colleagues and even the occasional Twitter follower, my first instinct is to reply that this cannot happen in democratic South Africa. Despite the appearance of a recent increase in splashy headlines detailing political scandals and subterfuge, court battles and corruption, and new leadership struggles, our constitution and strong governance institutions uphold our representative democracy.

I still believe this to be so. Yet, lest our confidence make us complacent, let us not forget that South Africa already has what Patrick Bond of University of KwaZulu-Natal describes as a ‘world-leading protest rate’. A rate that, in other countries, could cripple a government and batter a ruling party at the ballot box. The Institute’s own SA Reconciliation Barometer survey also confirms high rates of approval among South Africans for demonstrations in response to perceived rights violations.

Just days ago, protesting maths tutor Andries Tatane was brutally beaten and killed by SAPS officers attempting to quell a public demonstration as it gained momentum in the Eastern Cape town of Ficksburg. Video footage of Tatane, surrounded and beaten by police offers with batons and riot shields, quickly went viral, and has provoked massive outcry around the country. Tatane may indeed, like Buoazizi so many thousands of miles away, become a symbol of a deeply disenfranchised citizenry, and his death a harbinger of tense engagement between the people and the state that is yet to come.

For these reasons, it is of critical importance that South Africans use ballot boxes to air their grievances and affirm democratic processes by turning out at local government elections on 18 May.

In this edition of the SA Reconciliation Barometer newsletter, Ayanda Nyoka interviews IJR executive director Fanie du Toit about the driving forces behind pro-democracy protests in the Middle East and North Africa, and explores important lessons and precedents for states in transition after conflict.

Manager of the IJR Political Analysis unit Jan Hofmeyr also assesses current rumours of security sector involvement in ANC succession struggles, and suggests that a politically neutral public service might begin to restore some of the now-depleted citizen confidence in governance institutions, and those involved in the administration of justice and safety and security in particular.

In a second article, Hofmeyr also calls for a firm grasp on tried and tested principles of economic management and planning, though this may require ‘some jettisoning of ideological reasoning’, to weather the aftermath of the global economic recession and ensure that the country is on track to reach the targets set out in the New Growth Path.

Also in this edition, Vincent Williams of the Southern African Migration Project at Idasa discusses the difficult dual prospects of bolstering national unity and social cohesion among citizens, while also engendering respect for the rights of migrants and refugees within our borders.

Finally, the IJR’s Tim Murithi revisits last year’s backlash over comments made by renowned Afrikaans author Annelie Botes, and calls for a new national dialogue to aggressively counteract stereotypes and intolerance and deepen progress towards a nonracial South Africa.

I look forward to bringing you a year of critical analysis, debate and dialogue through Volume 9 of the SA Reconciliation Barometer newsletter, and encourage you to leave your comments on our blog, at sabarometerblog.wordpress.com.


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