Political and Economic Power are key to Transformation

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.


Reuben Dlamini

Reuben Dlamini is an Academic Technology Consultant at the Information Technology & Services Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA.

4 Responses to Political and Economic Power are key to Transformation

  1. According to the incident of the miners,It is excruciating to see South Africa falling apart ,a country that our heroes,true revolutionary leaders fought for.Genuine political leaders like Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo,Chris Hani, Steve Biko and many others who lost their lives struggling and fighting for our freedom that today we use to fulfill our personal interests. We have forgotten about our people(the community). Instead of of helping others”the poor” to better their lives those who in power have used them as their ladder to get on the top to pick the fruits and now they got the fruits ,they kick the ladder and never realize they will need it to climb down. This is what’s the country is going through right now.According to my own view the ruling Party doesn’t seems as it going to last for another one hundred years.There are rumors about launching the SANC(South African National Congress)the party is associated with a group which called itself “forces of change” and is opposed to President Jacob Zuma being re-elected as ANC leader.This group wants Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to be the next ANC president, and if this do not happen, it hoped to launch a new opposing party before the next general elections in 2014.It is seemingly that the ruling Party would keep splitting until it completely finished. We have witnessed it before when the COPE leave the ANC. The rulling Party is corrupted its self but I hope splitting of another Party would be an eye opening to the “leaders”
    This is my opinion.

  2. Reuben you are right! One question that comes to mind is how do we stop our governments from being more accountable to economic institutions like the world bank and IMF? It is clear to me that before freeing ourselves from these particular institutions, we will remain paralysed, in terms of development — or rather, in terms of making our governments accountable to us.

    Moving slightly off-tangent, are we sure that those who fought for change in the society, were not merely fighting for EXCHANGE? … I know I am a pessimist (at times) but the point in asking this question is to honestly reflect, for example, on whether we are expecting too much from the likes of Cyril. To this date, I remain unconvinced about his bull apology …(but again as I said I can be a pessimist).

  3. I think we need serious CHANGE that comes with TRANSFORMATION…You are right Mathe on fighting for EXCHANGE. Look at how COPE came about and those who were behind its formation and now the talk about formation SANC if JZ is re-elected. The people we put forward are the same faces fighting for their turn. Change means bringing new faces like maybe the Hon. F. Mbalula and the Hon. Dr. M. Ramphele even the upstanding Hon. Dr. N. Dlamini-Zuma that will mean change to me. As for the World Bank and IMF not sure if they will ever depart leave our countries since we measure good governance by Western Standards…To move forward there is a need for CHANGE and allow our elders to go home and act as advisors. Look at the ANC current working committee and the executive committee to me that says we are in for a long haul.
    Going to the polls should never be our yardstick for democracy its unfortunate that we have allow parties to be the bulldoze us into believing that they are the custodians of democracy. As long as we continue to believe in our elders we will continue to indirectly support their ideologies. Look at universities in RSA the student population has been transformed but the lecturers are still the “old wine in new bottles.” I challenge you not to be pessimist but be a custodian for CHANGE and share information with those around you so that they understand what is going on around them…We should not expect too much from our elders as they are driven by their personal interests. Just look around you everyday people (young people) are starting businesses as suppliers to the government structures.
    There is no innovation in being a supplier, that simply means tenderpreneurship continues to grow and tenderpreneurship is supported by the very elders we are electing every four or five years. The only way we can contribute to development is through building innovative institutions or organizations that will be pro grassroots development, I mean serious empowernments…Out of this innovative institutions or organizations we can only hope that new and accountable leaders will emerge. The emerging of this Class of Leaders will then result into an open, transparent and accountable mindset…

  4. S’khu will attempt to rise to the challenge … I do realise that can only begin to happen if we become active not passive 😉

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