By: Reuben Dlamini*
The domination of an organized minority… over the unorganized majority is inevitable. The power of any minority is irresistible as against each single individual in the majority, who stands alone before the totality of the organized minority. At the same time, the minority is organized for the very reason that it is a minority. Gaetano Mosca (1939, 53).
In the past few months we witnessed the tragic events in the mining sector in South Africa. This was largely due to the imbalances and inequalities found in societies all over the world. It is evident here in the Republic of South Africa that the ruling party will continue to survive for a long time but also that its survival does not in any way necessarily translate to the culmination of an equitable society. The gap between elites and those who are less fortunate continues to widen up instead of abating. In an imbalanced society people always have real expectations and those expectations if not met create a dilemma for those in government. There is no straight forward solution to such complex challenges because more often than not, economic institutions always favour those in the upper echelons of society. What I aim to argue here is that political power alone is not enough to foster positive results for the people of a country especially since we have, in continent of Africa, witnessed countries moving from nondemocratic to democratic, which definitely alter the distribution of political power.
Such alteration does not always result in the redistribution of the economic power which is vital to the development process. In most cases even when those who hold the economic power agree to share some of their powers but behind closed doors they continue to lobby and use other forces to hold on to both political and economic power. For example members of African National Congress (ANC) executive committee are shareholders in the mining sector which continues to underpay people and pollute the environment. Since the ANC fought for liberation you would have thought the presence of Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, Comrade Baleka Mbete, Zuma nephew and sons just to name a few in the mining industry board of directors would usher a new social welfare era to those blue collar mining employees. Unfortunately, that has not happen as human beings always protect their personal interests.
So, to construct better communities we need to unite around a common vision, have a people-oriented government and develop effective ways to manage and distribute our resources according to the needs of the people. To challenge inequality tendencies we need to create economic institutions that will empower those of lower class standing with skills necessary to create a level playing field and help them to create wealth. We can start leveling this field by decreasing the huge gaps that exist in salaries. North (1990) notes that institutions “are the rules of the game in a society or, more formally, are the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction” (p. 3). I am aware that this is not a cake walk but we need to stop fooling the majority that democracy is the answer to the social ills of our societies. It is not only democratic governance by elected leaders, but economic institutions matter too for economic growth and the distribution of resources across different social groups (North, 1990).
Now looking at the mining industry here in South Africa the executives are earning millions of Rands (ZAR) as their basic salaries and on top of that receive perks equating to hundreds of thousands as allowances, while the actual miners working underground earns as little as the executives daily “pocket money”. There is no way I am advocating for exuberate salaries for underground miners but I am saying those in power should competitively compensate and empower them for all their hard work.
Yes, democracy is far better than authoritarian regimes although that alone does not always necessarily guarantee human well being or transformation. I am not in any way underestimating the attainment of independence by most African countries in the 60s but in my view most of our leaders were not prepared for the task and they ended up creating dysfunctional systems that fostered corruption and patronage among themselves. In my world that was the beginning of the growing tendencies of the elites always holding on to political power. Going to the polls every four or five years to elect new leaders is not enough if those elected after being sworn in are not accountable to the electorates. There is a need to bring together public, private and traditional institutions together to work on a common vision in order build a balanced society. We must develop new economic institutions that will allow full participation of our dynamic communities thus providing opportunities that will stabilize our countries.
*Reuben Dlamini is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF Contributor. Read his short biography and previous articles here.
North, Douglass (1990) Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance, Cambridge University Press.
Mosca, Gaetano. 1939. The Ruling Class. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.