Welcome to the digital home of The Rivonia Circle

Written by Songezo Zibi

January 14, 2022

South Africa is broken in many ways, and for different reasons. On the one hand, the centuries of systematic assaults on black community and family life by colonialism and apartheid were always going to give us a society that suffers from deep structural problems. These tend to retain the racial patterns of old and will continue hinder the dream of common prosperity and justice for many years to come because they run so deep.

On the other hand, we have a democratic project that, for the first decade of freedom, held a lot of promise before political thuggery, corruption and leadership arrogance started dismantling all the gains and goodwill meant to serve as a foundation for a more just future. Today, members of the political elite class want power at all costs, and will stop at nothing to gain or retain it. In doing so, they neglect the people, worsen old structural problems, and create new ones. They have also destroyed the capability and legitimacy of the state.

Those with the education, knowledge, and skills to redirect the country towards a different path, the professional class, are seemingly too paralysed to take on the responsibility of doing so. Instead, they are increasingly distracted and divided by the demagoguery that masquerades as leadership.

Meanwhile, the problems that torment ordinary South Africans persist.

At the end of the third quarter of 2021, we had record unemployment of 35%, with the expanded definition unemployment edging towards 50%. Youth unemployment is even higher than that, breeding a generation of South Africans who should be getting ready to accelerate South Africa’s development but instead are preoccupied with whether they will ever be able to put food on the table. There are more unemployed young people now than there were in 2009.

Too many municipalities are in disarray and have been slated by the Auditor-General on numerous occasions. The deputy minister of finance admitted as much last year when the Treasury was taken to court to force it to take over some dysfunctional municipalities. They owe billions to Eskom, can’t collect rates and are in financial distress. This means their capacity to deliver basic services is compromised.

South Africa has moved from a strong fiscal position in 2007/2008 to a ballooning sovereign debt. In the 2009 budget, then President Motlanthe announced a cash package of R690bn over 3yrs to fight the effects of the global financial crisis. In 2020, it announced R500bn to fight a more severe Covid crisis, of which only R200bn was cash. Much of that has still not been spent due to government incapacity.

Institutions of government were destroyed and are no longer able to perform their basic functions. The police and Hawks cannot investigate and arrest the corrupt and organized criminals. The NPA is unable to prosecute. The State Security Agency could not foresee the mayhem that took place in July, and the police could not manage it either. Once the riots began, ministers and their officials seemed paralyzed and confused, not knowing what to do.

In an internal national survey we conducted in November 2021, 69% of respondents believed the country is “headed in the wrong direction”.  An almost similar number thought that political parties are only interested in fighting for positions of power, a profound vote of no confidence that presents legitimacy problems for our democracy.

But the time for endless analysis is over. We know what the country’s problems are and repeating them ad nauseam will not deliver a different outcome. What is needed are concrete proposals for fundamental change, and commitment to act with conviction to see them being realized. This is so South Africa does not become a failed state.

What we believe

At the Rivonia Circle we have accepted the responsibility of imagining a different future for South Africa, producing the principles upon which those ideas will be grounded and share a deep commitment to see them through. We have taken on this task because the South African people have an extraordinary capacity to build the society of their dreams.

These are the principles that inform our effort, which we hope will be shared by those who decide to volunteer their talents, time, and resources to be part of this endeavour.

  • We are inspired by our national constitution, which recognises our past and the need to make the necessary sacrifices and effort to build a more just and inclusive future. Unlike some who aspire to leadership, we do not blame it for lack of will or capability to help the South African people to change their lives for the better.
  • We believe that the social democratic values, of Justice, Equality, Freedom and Solidarity are the finest expression of our constitution’s ideals, and as such we believe South Africa’s future should be social democratic.
  • We believe South Africa needs a comprehensive overhaul. We need statutes and institutions that deepen and expand democratic participation and accountability, a state that can enables individual and collective prosperity, ensures justice; and social and economic policies that produce individual, family and community well-being and safety.

Ideas need strong, clear-headed modernizers to bring them to reality. For this reason, we will also be introducing an impactful leadership development program for young people who aspire to serve the interests of South Africa’s people in different spheres of our society. These are people who will be united behind our constitutional and social democratic principles and are willing to pursue them in whatever they do.

Over time, we will roll out an expansive public dialogue and empowerment program that creates opportunities for collaborative production of ideas based on the daily experiences of South Africans. We will also use this program to deepen democratic participation.

However, precisely because South Africa is in a deepening crisis, we will research and develop comprehensive ideas for political, state, social and economic reforms. We will share these with the South African people and create further opportunities for expanded contribution to the task of creating a different future for our nation.

In conclusion, the Rivonia Circle is composed of ordinary people who dare to dream of a better future and are willing to put in extraordinary efforts to make it possible. The path on which our country is, is unsustainable. A better path needs South Africans from all walks of life to unite behind common values, to use their talents and skills to build the country of our dreams.

Yes, this is a political endeavour because it is aimed at changing our political culture, improving our democracy, and transforming our political institutions with better ideas and better prepared leaders. This is a journey of a thousand miles, but if we do not get started, we will become a failed state.

This is not the task of the few, but a collective effort by patriotic South Africans from all walks of life. Therefore we encourage those who believe in the above principles and the mission we have set upon, to get in volved and contribute. We will soon have the option to take small donations, but if you are willing to be part of our work, please fill in the form and let us know.Songezo Zibi is Chairman of The Rivonia Circle.

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