A temporary society and state: “Momentariness doctrine” of our government

President Ramaphosa at the head office of Rand Water as he will be addressed by the Human Settlement regarding the supply of water to communities since the Corona Outbreak. Picture by: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

Covid-19 has exposed our approach and ideologies of politics, economics, and society as temporary, momentary and ad hoc. We are an ad-hoc society and state. Collins dictionary argues that “an ad hoc activity or organisation is done or formed only because a situation has made it necessary and is not planned in advance”. I do not wish to sound that I deny that there are situations that requires approaches that are temporary, momentary and ad hoc because I would attest that some solutions are found in such arrangements. However, I depart from the premise that other things should have been permanent. But of course, it is your constitutional right to misunderstand. We are now 26 years into a democracy and we have a duty to do self-reflection and critique. 

We must ask; have we build the society, economy, politics and spirituality that seeks to provide permanent solutions for ourselves? We are leaving in an unreal society which is racialised therefore racist. Our economy does not cater for all, I fact it is a jungle, a dog eats dog world, survival of the fittest. Our politics are auction politics driven by the interest of the highest bidder. Our churches continue to become an opium of the people as majority of them offers no human solution but suspend pain with the hope to live better in heaven. All what is giving us hope has proven to offer temporary solutions in the 26 years. I do not wish to deny that we have had good programs in the 26 years. I do not wish to deny the piece of land that came with RDP houses declared by Nelson Mandela. I do not wish to deny the growing economy and an African agenda under Thabo Mbeki. I do not wish to take away the realisation of the partial Free Education for some under Jacob Zuma. 

I do not wish to exclude the new labour laws on Affirmative Action and Equity. I do not wish to put a blind eye on Freedom of Movement, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Association and many more. I do not wish to be irrational and only negative. However, equally, I do not wish to deny that more could and should have been done. More can be done. I do not wish to close my eyes and ears from the reality. Sol Plaatje once lamented many years ago: ““AWAKENING on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually, a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.” 

So, I paraphrase or rather remix, awakening in 2020, a South Africa native found himself, not actually, a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth. A native is homeless, food-less, unemployed, waterless, toilet-less, hospital-less, etc. I am saying this because during this time of Covid-19 it is for the first time that we all acknowledge the depth of our problem or call it a crisis denied. We are all in agreement that we should and could have done more. Instead we are busy with rush hour and mask pass approaches. We have seen temporary approaches and solutions. Temporary shelters, temporary employment relief, temporary increases on SASSA grant, temporary hospitals, temporary food hampers, temporary water tanks, temporary toilets, etc, above all, temporary care and love. All this by now should have been permanent by now but not. We are unfortunately and shamefully 2 in a state of a moment and 26 years of Temporary Solutions. But the question is, who or what is to be blamed? 

For some reason, our government in some instances and in most instances has opted for a temporary ideology, mentality, culture, strategy and tactic. This might of course be informed by history or lack of direction or will. Sometimes the argument is that we are a third world country therefore unaffordable and its only when we realise that “third world is a state of the mind and until we change our attitude as Africans, if there is forth, fifth and even sixth world, we will be in it”. Most of our politicians uses the solutions that could have been provided in the times of OR Tambo unless they are still trapped in that era. I am mentioning Tambo specifically because he could have made several decisions and could have used certain temporary approaches as he was in exile based at guerrilla or military camps. A military camp is naturally temporary. Its life and setup are meant to exist for a moment. Sleeping, food, or live style at military camps are meant to be temporary. Many who stays in this environment internalise and culturize this as a life style and approach to many things they do. 

This culture can be transferred to other generations unintentionally as it might have become a way of life. If one read from the Harare Declaration of 1989 point 21.5 it says: “The parties shall agree on the formation of an interim government to supervise the process of the drawing up and adoption of new Constitution govern and administer the country, as well as effect the transition to a democratic order including the holding of election”. Here we observe a temporary idea or solution to a Democratic South Africa. Of course, both should be read and understood in context. Tambo knew one day they should return to South Africa and to implemented permanent solutions to our people. Also, in 1993, we saw a drafting and adoption of a new Interim South African Constitution, by implication a temporary solution. In the mix of things, we should perhaps agree that there could have being those who were students of the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus who argued that impermanence is a positive way and that it is necessary to make something exist. But like I said, I do not wish to rule out the other possibility that we are in temporary state becomes the only solution is in the temporary as we do not have a permanent solution, or we do not have a political will and direction for permanency. 

Zhuangzi was correct, “We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away”. There has been conferences and seminars which produced lot of documents such as The Freedom Charter, Harare Declaration and Ready To Govern which propose permanent solution yet the language of government and its programs it’s the opposite and in most of the cases provide temporary approaches and solutions which later are blamed on the previous administration and it seems no one wants to inherit the mistakes but everyone is ready to inherit all the successes. In conclusion: “There may be some controversy over the views I have expressed. Any such controversy will be welcomed, if it springs from differences of honest opinion…” (Oliver Tambo).

Boitumelo Senokoane is an associate professor at the University of South Africa.