China continues to define what a new world order has the potential to look like

LEARN FROM US: Lin Songtian, the Peoples Republic of China ambassador to South Africa, says Chinas economic growth, which targets 6% annually, takes priority over leadership positions. Picture: Jacques Naudé/ANA

The national flags flying outside shops have competition with the sea of flags that covers Tiananmen Square like a red blanket. Metro subway stations have to be closed and traffic diverted as young people, in the main, come out to celebrate the Chinese National Day, 1 October.

Throughout China millions of people are complimenting their relaxing with celebrations. In churches, congregants are praying for the Chinese people while local tourists take the opportunity to see their country or simply take time out to visit family and friends. With these holidays and national day, comes the big snake of thousands passing through Chairman Mao’s mausoleum in paying homage to the founder of the People’s Republic on this its 68th anniversary.

The Chinese people have reason to celebrate and relax. At the celebrations in Pretoria, the new Chinese ambassador to South Africa, Lin Sontian, noted some of China’s achievements since its “opening up” in the late seventies. To reform is for China to open up to the world and for the world to open China, were the words of Deng Xiaoping, as he led China into its new era of prosperity through Marxism with Chinese characteristics.

When the People’s Republic was established in 1949, Lin recalled, China had a GDP per capita of less than a hundred US dollars. Today that figure sits at approximately eight thousand US dollars. The PRC has been able to lift over seven hundred million people out of poverty while becoming the world’s largest manufacturing power with the greatest trading muscle. 

Yet it would seem that the greatest lesson the Chinese can teach us is the willingness and the ability to reform. China personifies the saying: adapt or die. Lin, his family or surname, continued to explain that in the last five years alone, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, China was able to risk introducing 1 200 new reforms. At the same time, it was able to register an average growth rate of 7.2%, accounting for nearly a third of the global economic growth. China has plans to eradicate poverty completely by 2020. 

All of this is important because those governing China, the Communist Party of China, understand the implications of political legitimacy. The government, which hardly differentiates between party and state, because the party is the state and the state is the party, is able to clamp down on civil liberties, access to internet and strictly enforce the rule of law precisely because the people of China permit them to do so. 

The Chinese people are willing to forfeit these rights and privileges in order to attain a better and more comfortable life for all. While one cannot downplay “Confucian values” such as harmony, consensus, order, communitarianism, modesty and spirituality and the tremendous influence these have on the political culture, it is paramount for the Party always to be seen as legitimate, without blemish and righteous in the eyes of ordinary Chinese people.

The image of the party and its legitimacy is of utmost importance and it is for this reason that the CPC is swift to deal with corruption, internal strife within the party and any form of factionalism. The thinking of any cadre, trained in the party, dictates that it is the party and the People’s Republic first before anything else. As a result, stemming from this philosophy, one can then understand the abhorrence for corruption and abuse of office.

In its discussion on Strategy and Tactics for the 5th National Policy Conference, the ANC wrote that the rapid development of countries such as China, on the one hand, and the crisis brought about by the global financial market in 2008, contributed to the decline in the legitimacy of the political and business elites. 

The ANC, suggesting that this phenomenon of the political and business elites losing legitimacy as not something unique to South Africa but could be found across the globe, attributed the decline in legitimacy to the inability of these classes to address “fundamental questions of social inequality, declining social ethics and mismanagement of global challenges such as migration and terrorism.”

In respect of its own legitimacy and how they are viewed by the populace, the ANC dedicated an entire section in its discussion document on the balance of forces going towards its National General Council in 2015 on the question of the legitimacy of the polity and the state. In fact, the ANC made clear to indicate that the very democratic system was placed in jeopardy by those who were trying to chip away at the legitimacy of the democratic state.

The unfortunate recent spate of occurrences, at a conference level especially, within the ANC has not assisted in any way to help build brand ANC and strengthen its legitimacy. Before the 2014 national and provincial elections, internal ANC research showed that the party’s base voters, that is their stronghold areas and voters, were showing signs of mistrust in the organisation.

Whereas during the struggle and even during the negotiated settlement period a large amount of people trusted the ANC to carry their mandate, that support is waning because of internal fights and mismanagement of state resources. These fights and abuse of public resources do not only happen at a high or national level but they happen where the people are: in the ward and in the municipality.

Following the court cases, the conferences as well as the killings happening in KwaZulu-Natal it is imperative that senior ANC leaders sit down and call for a ceasefire. A negotiated settlement within the ANC with a clear programme of action for radical economic transformation must be agreed to. The question of leadership must be based on a compromise because the old age adage of “no one is bigger than the ANC” must emerge. 

There is a story in the scriptures of two women fighting over a child with each laying claim to be the mother. King Solomon, in his wisdom, suggests to cut the child in half and give a half to each. Of course, thought the king, a mother would rather have her child live with another woman than have it killed. This is how the king discovered who the real mother is; the one who would rather give up the child and see it live.

The real leaders of the ANC would give up their positions to see the ANC live. Instead of seeing a split in it, they would hand over the ANC to the other caucus in order to work with them to help build the ANC. Instead, we are hearing talk of a split. 

If the ANC is able to go back to its roots of sacrifice and being accommodating, as it was to the apartheid enemy, and achieve this, it will once again win over a huge amount of legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

Nomvula  Mokonyane is the Minister of Water & Sanitation and ANC NEC member