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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The FGR carried out in November/December 1996

of 18 groups, at least one of which came from each of the 9 provinces. Participants were community leaders and activists, including prominent locals who had a strong influence on opinion in their communities.

The FGR states :"Across race and party lines, the mood of South African community leaders is one of ambivalence. Community leaders participating expressed frustration with the rate of change, disappointment in broken promises, nervousness about the future, but that is combined with a fundamental, if not all that firmly rooted belief that the country was moving in the right direction, and the understanding that change takes time. While they were struggling to address severe problems in their communities unemployment, housing, crime, and health-care delivery, they did see some progress and the advent of democracy continues to be a powerful and emotional force.

(The memory of the first election still elicits strong emotional reaction. That election, had entered the realm of myth --the JFK assassination syndrome it had become the defining moment of democracy, not an event that signaled the beginning of the long, hard struggle to create and propagate democratic norms and values but the culminating apogee of democracy itself. The April'94 election had assumed a mystical reverence, it had represented the apex of the struggle, not the beginning, the one shining moment when 'hope and history met,' when everything seemed possible, the sky was the limit, one had only to wish and the wish would come true.

It may be unfair to attribute the high expectations blacks had of the changes that would follow the election of "their" government these expectations had been relentlessly fostered by the internal opposition to apartheid, especially with the advent of the UDF in 1983. The emphasis was always on tearing things down, destroying apartheid structures, abolishing apartheid laws. People were given no understanding of what freedom meant, other than it would be the opposite of apartheid; but there was no effort to make the masses understand that "Own" rule would bring with it immense obligations, that they would have to sacrifice in order to build a new South Africa, that South Africa was a poor country, that poverty was pervasive, that while they were not as poor as their neighbors, the poverty was nevertheless real and would not be eliminated overnight .that even taking a lot from whites wouldn't go very far when you trued to spread it around because despite the ostentatiousness of whites, they were few in number and blacks were many, that the mythical belief that if only the white government was disposed of, everyone could live as comfortably as whites.

All of which reinforced a culture of dependency and learned helplessness with a culture that perceived change in terms of the changes that whites had to make, but ignored the changes that blacks would have to make Everything was perceived of in terms of a one-sided equation. For all the calls to let my people go, few had much idea where to take them, and when the ideological underpinnings of socialism fell apart, they found themselves more or less coerced into free-market thinking, again without much thought to where that would lead them. Hence the half-hearted commitment to GEAR. On the one hand, international institutions must see them as playing according to the book-plays of the "Washington consensus:" on the other, the game somehow wasn't turning out the way the play-book had forecast, and the effort to trim ideological sails and yet give the impression to the masses that the Freedom Charter remained the touchstone of the movement, the Bible, Gospel, and Road Map to the Future all rolled onto one. The effort to square so many circles absorbed the intellectual energies of a fractious elite, producing more muddled thinking than clarity of vision.

One more thing: the constant harping on apartheid as the obstacle to black progress or self-initiative was conducive to blacks believing this to be the case; hence no effort was called for since it would only be stymied by apartheid. Their actions reinforced their own passivity, and one fed on the other. It would be interesting to get a map of the geographic spread of resistance and the pattern of arrests Was resistance really an urban phenomenon? Tom what extent, if at all, was there rural participation?)

The constitution had already achieved enormous legitimacy and permanence a document that should not be easily altered. The most frequent criticism of th43e constitution was that it granted too many rights, and is to blame for rising crime and social disintegration.

( At the same time they saw the constitution as "an expression of common principles and a protection of their rights. And ,one would think that if the "too many rights" were to blame for "rising crime and social disintegration" they would be in favor of amending it to get rid of these "too many rights.")

Another seeming contradiction: a number of community leaders expressed concern that the constitution was not well understood by the people they were concerned by the lack of democratic education and wanted better civic training.

(The contradiction is that we're discussing what this "elite" believe on the one hand, and what they believe the masses understand. Question: if these are the civic and community leaders, why aren't they doing more to educate the "masses" re constitution etc. If they don't do it who do they expect to do it?)

Thus while the FGR may say that the "Constitution has achieved enormous legitimacy and permanence, that as a document it should not be easily changed, and that community leaders feel a great sense of ownership and pride in the constitution, it is also clear to these community leaders that the constitution is not well understood by most of the people for whom it serves as the supreme law, and that in this sense allegiance is amorphous rather than absolute, something people take pride in, perhaps because it is theirs, rather than being committed to, and hence the need for civic education at the grassroots level to familiarize people with the principles of the constitution, how those principles apply to their every day lives, and how heir increased knowledge of the constitution will advance democracy and in the not only musy lead to a better life for all.

Community leaders have a fairly clear view of what they expect from national and local government. From national government, they expect planning, direction, and allocation of resources. From local government they expect implementation. Provincial government, however, remains ill defined. Community leasers have strong views of their local governments, which they expect to be in close touvh with the grassroots and to deliver visible results.. South African community leaders are increasingly looking for real results and accountability as they move from the revolution to a functional democracy. Particularly at the local level, not only must government listen, it must respond and deliver. When local government succeeds, it is widely praised, where it fails it is harshly criticized.

Community leaders are much more mixed in their assessment of national government. On the one hand, most credit national government with doing a reasonably good job in setting national policy. On the other, they criticize the national government for failing to provide the necessary resources to implement policy.

Government corruption is viewed as a serious problem, but most do not view it as the most serious problem they face. Indeed, discussions about corruption emerged spontaneously in only six of the eighteen focus groups. In each of these groups, the issues raised by participants were either corruption at the provincial level or in police departments. Corruption at the national level, while viewed as serious, was not a topic that emerged on its own. One Johannesburg leader summarized the general attitude. "While corruption should be looked on with a critical eye," he said, "we should not concentrate on it."

However, once the topic was raised, most participants expressed great unhappiness with the level of corruption. It disappoints them because they expected better; they see it as hypocritical from a government that has pledged equality and democracy; they worry about "going the way" of other African nations; they are angry about the waste of resources; and, they are frustrated that it makes it harder to govern. They are cynical about politicians who were once part of the revolution but have already become corrupted.

At the same tome, they put the question in two perspectives: One, that while significant government exists in the new South Africa, it is probably no worse than it was under the old regime. The difference, most agree, it that corruption is visible now, whereas before it was hidden. Thus, the difference between the two lay in the new transparency. There was a propensity to believe that the fact that people were becoming more aware of corruption was an indication not that there was more of it than in the "old days, but that government had become much more transparent about it and prepared to expose it to public scrutiny. The government's willingness to be accountable and transparent stood it in good stead.

Community leaders point to two reasons why South Africa is moving in the right direction: the advent of democracy and civil liberties, and signs of genuine, albeit insufficient progress in areas like housing and education. There is an increasing understanding among Blacks that the expectations they had in 1994 that the opportunity to elect "their government" would bring about a sea-change in their economic and social circumstances were unfounded. There is much disappointment that promises have not been kept; much disappointment that change has been too slow, and much doubt and uncertainty regarding the future. Perhaps the mood is best captured by a black leader in Cape town who ruefully observed that "We had high expectations but all of a sudden we're doubtful. We don't know if we are coming or going."

What is most conspicuous in the 1996 FGR is the emergence of crime as a major, if not the major issue. Leaders complain vociferously that criminals are cuddled; that criminals have too many rights and almost unanimously want the death penalty to be reinstated.

Crime is a unique issue for two reasons. First it is an issue that leaders clearly believe is not moving in the right direction; rather that the situation is worsening, and second, unlike other issues, it is seen as a constitutional issue and is one of the few sources of criticism of the constitution. To most community leaders, the Constitution is soft on crime. The most harsh criticism were scathingly voiced: The Constitution does not protect the innocent but the criminal," or "I think our Constitution has many flaws that need to be rectified. You find a murderer, after killing some one, claiming he has the right to sleep in a bed and watch TV. Our Constitution tries to accommodate everyone, even wrong ones."

On a more general plane, community leaders evaluate government policies in terms of their most tangible priorities, and their frustrations are directed not at the policies themselves, but at the absence of delivery and the lack of adequate resources.

What is also significant with regard to the response of participants is their failure to identify corruption, but more importantly, their singular failure to identify unemployment as a major source of concern in their communities, or even to make tenuous connections with dire economic conditions and increasing crime.

Most community leaders believe that political parties are a necessary and important part of the constitution. Three reasons were most often cited: They give people a voice in the political process and provide for diversity of expression; they represent freedom of expression and association; and particularly in black townships, leaders were prone to say that political parties were instrumental in problem-solving and delivery of services. Some leaders saw political parties as a legitimate provider of jobs and as "providing the goods for the broader community"

But no one questioned that the ANC would be the dominant political party for a long time to come and few saw this as an undesirable thing, or as being in any way unfair or illegitimate. On the contrary, there is a prevailing if not overwhelming belief that ANC dominance is justifiable in a time of transition; that it provides for stability and minimizes the ravages of political faction- fighting, gives government officials the time to acquire the experience that will allow them to perform more effectively. While community leaders from parties other than those aligned with thw ANC also conceded the inevitability of ANC dominance, they also expressed frustration that their voices are not heard, never mind needed: "Big parties don't worry about small parties. They don't listen to them. They disregard and degrade them."

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.