• Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala;
• Dr Khabele Matlosa, former Director of the Office of Political Affairs at the African Union Commission and other members of the diplomatic community;
• Dr Andile Ngcaba, former director general in the South African government;
• Ms Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini M.B.E., Director of the International Civil Society Action Network;
• Mr Peter de Clercq, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia;
• Senior Leadership of the University of Johannesburg;
• Staff and students of the University of Johannesburg and other universities in South Africa
• Delegates and representatives of governments, civil society organisations, and business from across the African continent;
• Distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen.
I thank the University of Johannesburg for inviting and offering me the honour to address this Civil Society Conference.
Surveying the vast expanse of human history and theorising the timeline of social order, allows us to look back and take stock of the developmental nature of our existence, and how the phenomenon of change that punctuates this chronology, reminds us that we cannot take progress for granted.
The ways in which societies have organised; co-ordinated productive and cultural activity; developed within social structures and institutions; and shared social contracts with their own rules, standards, value systems, and norms; draws an outline of human progress that illustrates the shape of control and the pattern of the governing of one over another.
Tracing this outline, we may notice that the development of society and governments are not linear and that the jagged arc of human progress is, in fact, made up of forces that are characterised by contradictions and the evolution of power.
And so, when considering the element of good governance in the topic of today’s discussion, we may observe that the concept and definition of what constitutes governance, is in constant flux. The value judgement of what comprises the good in governance, is a perennial balancing act of opposing forces. Those who hold the power of the production of knowledge to designate and prescribe what the world considers as a good governance, grip firmly on the geopolitical power of the world over those who are deemed, governance poor.
As we begin to more clearly grasp the idea of good governance as not something that should be bound by a definition, we are offered a wider space to inquire how to achieve governance that serves the people.
It is for the people that any government exists, and because of the people that a value system of governance should operate. Thus there is a moral imperative for a principles-based style of governance that includes the voices, thoughts, and participation of all people.
Although we may not seek to constrain the concept of good governance to a singular interpretation, through the lived experience of the people, the limitations and weaknesses of a government are laid bare. Therefore we understand more clearly what constitutes an interpretation of bad governance. This notion of good and bad governance, as a political instrument, is deployed to impose the agenda of developed countries over the under-developed and developing countries.
Democratic application and government practice could play the largest roles in reducing social ills and economic disasters, however, it takes political will and ethical leadership to govern well. Creating meaningful and lasting change, is only possible if the rule of law is upheld and if the people are allowed to participate in their own political, social and economic development.
The attainment of good governance requires cooperation at its core, with participatory democracy giving way to greater social justice. However, social justice and social change is all too often hard-won, and these battle grounds are the domain of social movements. Social movements which make up part of civil society, give dignity to those who are suffering, amplify the voices of those who are marginalised, exploited and oppressed.
Scholars, researchers, writers, political commentators, donor organisations and governments tend to refer to all NGOs as civil society. Whereas others refer to the golden triangle of government, business, and trade unions as the establishment, and see all the other formations as civil society, including: community-based organisations; religious and faith-based organisations; academic institutions; traditional fellowships; and cultural associations.
Through the latter, one may generate a deeper appreciation of civil society as a pivotal, key contributor in advancing democratic change in Africa.
In some countries in Africa, participatory democracy is enshrined in their constitutions, and in others it is a creature of legislation.
To cite a few examples from Bornwell Chikulo in a book entitled Challenges of Democracy and Development in Africa, edited by Khabele Matlosa, Jorgen Elklit and Bertha Chiroro:
♦ In Botswana, participatory democracy is enshrined in the:
• Local Governments District Council Act of 1965;
• Townships Act of 1965;
• Unified Local Government Service Act of 1973; and
• Town and Country Planning Act of 1980.
♦ In Namibia it is in Chapter 12 of the Namibian Constitution.
♦ In South Africa it is in Chapter 7 of the Constitution.
♦ In Zambia it is in the Local Government Act.
♦ And in Zimbabwe local authorities were created through acts of parliament.
It is important to note that no two countries on the African continent are exactly the same, therefore the terrain in which civil society operates is equally dissimilar. So, the issues for community and issue-based organisations are quite different.
Professor Adebayo Olukoshi describes democracies in Africa as choice-less democracies. Policy making has been externalised in many African countries who are impelled to follow the prescripts of institutes such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Ratings Agencies.
It is for this reason that we are compelled to ask the question:
In terms of governance, how are 56 African countries doing the same thing at the same time?
Therefore these African countries need to win the right to define what their problems are and to determine their strategic goals, otherwise progressive policies would continue to be punished by investors and Ratings Agencies simply because they are deemed not to conform nor adhere to good governance.
Similarly civil society has a role to play in winning the right to define their own problems and solutions to their strategic goals, rather than advocating policies which are determined by donor funders. Impliedly there is a basis for a shared interest between these African governments and civil society to pursue the best interests of their people from all fronts.
The discourse on governance in Africa has changed over the past decades since the era of liberation and as the democratic landscape has emerged, civil society organisations have themselves undergone a rapid and fundamental transformation in the manner in which they interact with state institutions on governance matters. This profound transition is visible in the efforts of organisations such as the African Union, the Pan-African Parliament and the African Peer Review Mechanism.
The African Peer Review Mechanism is a voluntary arrangement amongst African states to systematically assess and review governance at Head of State peer level in order to promote political stability, accelerated sub-regional and continental economic growth, sustainable development, democracy and political governance.
However, in the case of The African Peer Review Mechanism, there is little regard on the composition of civil society within the context of its structures and the centricity of dialogue as a process of governance. This omission of civil society collaboration and the reduction in stakeholder engagement, has serious consequences for the participatory process of African people and the amelioration of governance on the continent.
A robust democracy that relies on civil society as the last line of defence to fight on behalf of the people, thus requires a civil society to be as equally, if not more, robust to ensure the social movements do protect the interests of the most vulnerable.
In our examination of good governance and the social development organisations that claim to be agents of change, the question that begs to be answered is:
What do institutions that hold the power to create definitions and standards, stand to gain?
The sensitive impact of change in an equation is well-characterized in geometry where according to the length of a triangle’s sides or the measurement of its angles, we are presented with an infinite set of possibilities and unexpected geometric connections. Like a triangle’s three sides, the private sector touches with the side of the state, to reach an apex that should represent the connection of a nation’s political, economic, and social goals. At the base of the triangle, we find the third sector, civil society as the third side that forms a support and in many ways has the power to influence the measurement of elected governments and businesses.
A geometric rule to remember is that the angles of opposite sides are not always in a proportionate ratio. Similarly, the burden of civil society in relation to the public and private sectors, can also be disproportionate, sometimes unpredictable, and certainly evolving in its response: leaving the equation open to calculation by nuanced changes within society.
Civil society as the third sector, has the ability to be an independent representative of the people and a critical conscience of communities, and through the University of Johannesburg’s Civil Society Conference, we hope that necessary dialogue takes place in order to respond to the ever changing demands on civil society to act as an agent of constant change and innovation in Africa.
I thank you.