Transparency, trust and accountability as major challenges of political transition in South Africa

An Interview with Marjorie Jobson, National Director of Khulumani Support Group Johannesburg.

Claske Dijkema, October 2009


  • political transition
  • post-conflict
  • overcoming structural violence
  • apartheid
  • South Africa

Related articles

In an interview in Johannesburg in October 2009, Marjorie Jobson, the national director of Khulumani Support Group discusses South Africa’s struggle to overcome a culture of secrecy and to install a culture of trust within government and to achieve government accountability to citizens. These are typical challenges of political transition in post-conflict contexts

A culture of secrecy

We come from a history of a political system that was built on secrecy and control. This has been a very difficult culture to try to change. The post-apartheid government has slipped into perpetuating many of these practices and has in some instances even continued to perfect these practices of the previous government.

Both the ANC military wing and other underground movements shared this way of existence with the apartheid government - both were based on secrecy and on intelligence. The apartheid state security system developed networks of informants. Some of these former informants are now in government and so allegations continue to emerge that certain individuals were “spies” for the apartheid government. This has been a really difficult legacy of the apartheid government’s programme of misinformation. Some of these former informants were ‘turned into informants’ as a result of being severely tortured. This has created a culture of officials from the same political party attacking each other - a situation where there is a complete breakdown in trust amongst members of the same political party. We sit with the terrible mess that that has resulted in. To change these practices is extremely difficult.

The difficulty of overcoming structural violence

15 years after democracy, we are dealing with more cases of deaths from torture in police cells than happened in the struggle. As a nation we aspired to different ideals, that are embodied in a brilliant constitution, but the practices lag far behind. People were schooled in different practices and there hasn’t been effective leadership to actually call an end to these practices. It is an incredibly complex phase we are in at present.

It seems to me that we are functioning in an autocratic system. There is generalised fear that although you have been elected to particular positions or appointed to particular portfolios, you are constantly being watched by those you are meant to be leading who have the power to start processes of having you removed. This is very disempowering for those who want to provide genuine and helpful leadership. It seems that the members of the ruling tripartite alliance in South Africa, the ANC, COSATU and the SACP, function in a fairly autocratic manner with limited permission for individuals to raise objections and to encourage real dialogue. President Zuma himself has a background in military intelligence and is accustomed to functioning within a military command structure. This contributes to many of the challenges we continue to face.

The legacy of the liberation struggle

Another challenge is the fact that Jacob Zuma served as chief of deployment for many years before his appointment as President. This means that individuals were deployed to every critical position in government on the basis of their loyalty to the party and their past contribution to the struggle, rather than on the basis of their competence for specific functions. All these individuals who would be threatened in their jobs by other individuals really competent to perform their work functions, owe their positions to the now President of the country. This is not a helpful situation and contributes to the reality that so many branches of government are failing or simply collapsing. This is challenge that faces all former liberation movements that have no training for governance.

For this reason, we believe that the people who fought the liberation struggle in daily street battles with the South African apartheid security apparatus are better equipped to lead the transformation of the still too ‘militarised’ culture that exists in South Africa. They would have more potential for undoing the harm of apartheid than many ANC- deployed former military combatants. We sit with 80,000 unemployed former combatants in South Africa.

A recent scenario creation process called the Dinokeng Scenarios presented the country with what is a fairly accurate reflection of this state of affairs. The assessment was that the country is in a state of “Walking Apart” – a huge gap has arisen between the ordinary citizen – the electorate and those it elected to Parliament and to other official positions. In the eyes of most citizens, government is not presently ‘legitimate’ because it is not serving the public good and the needs of the majority of citizens. It is this lack of legitimacy that Khulumani sees as a particular opportunity because we can embrace various tools to assist government to begin to reclaim some legitimacy and to expand their accountability and to promote a genuine participatory democracy rather than the present reality. We have begun to see how our members are finding powerful ways to start doing this. For more information about Khulumani’s tools for demanding accountability of the private sector click here and for the public sector click here