In “The idea of South Africa continues to fight for reality” (Opinion, 7 January) David Pilling reminds readers of the distance between the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s articulation of the highest ideals of post-apartheid South Africa and the country’s persistent unequal realities. In doing so, he highlights the pockets of bureaucratic excellence in South Africa’s government that give cause for hope.
It is indeed cause for hope amidst many other reasons for despair. But bureaucratic capacity cannot be developed or sustained without a broader political project that includes this bureaucracy in society. The erosion of South Africa’s bureaucracy has a social root. The post-apartheid era witnessed the demobilization of the mass social movement of trade unions, neighborhood and housing movements, and churches – led by Tutu – that drove the struggle for democracy.
Tutu made his name in the black suburbs of metropolitan Johannesburg, including his home Soweto. There, during the darkest days of the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s, he preached to urban township communities in intense protest and violence. In last year’s municipal election, these townships and informal settlements witnessed historically depressed voter turnout. This has left the African National Congress without mayoral seats in a number of the largest metropolitan municipalities, including Johannesburg.
Would Tutu’s passing inspire a new generation of political leaders to return to the township streets where Tutu did the work that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. It is the urban peripheries of today where too much remains without sufficient shelter, sanitation and economic dignity. The democratic dispensation that Tutu helped bring about promised these things and many more.
Benjamin H Bradlow
Lecturer in Sociology, Harvard University Cambridge, MA, USA