Democratic Alliance party leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: REUTERS
Democratic Alliance party leader Mmusi Maimane. Picture: REUTERS

In his criticism of DA leader Mmusi Maimane, Neels Blom asserted that: "…liberalism is the go-to ideology. The western liberal model is the measure against which socioeconomic wellness is assessed." (The answer, Mr Maimane, is to break free of collectivism, August 21)

How could Blom make such a bold claim in the face of historical evidence to the contrary? The idea of "a western liberal model" is belied by the plurality of models of democracy and socioeconomic approaches in much of Western Europe and North America.

The inadequacy of a singular liberal model is borne out by the predominance of sociodemocratic models in Scandinavian countries that focus on solidarity rather than on individualism.

Germany also learnt from the post-World War Two experience of following a liberal economic system that uniting East and West would require much more state intervention.

The post-Berlin Wall German model draws heavily on values-based citizen activism, solidarity and codetermination in the economy, rather than on the individualistic pursuit of wellness.

The resilience of the German economy is testimony to the effectiveness of acknowledging and healing post-Nazi wounds, and working to mould a German society that cares.

Canada is a society that is enjoying wellness precisely because of its more social-democratic values than its individualistic neighbour to the south, the US.

Human beings are created to be connected to others. We thrive best in situations where our humaneness is affirmed by other human beings. The root cause of our governance problems and the underperformance of our economy is our failure to address the legacy of broken links between us as human beings.

Political freedom without socioeconomic freedom is not sustainable.

French philosopher Raymond Aron observed that: "Too great a degree of inequality makes human community impossible."

SA is struggling to become a national community due to too much inequality, not too much collectivism, as Blom would have us believe.

In the book, Apartheid: Britain’s Bastard Child, Helene Opperman-Lewis writes that the "lack of understanding of transgenerational trauma and the impact of humiliation on nations is one reason why people do not learn from history."

Opperman-Lewis’s analysis of the effect of the unacknowledged legacy of British imperialism on indigenous people and Afrikaners should give Blom pause for thought.

The idea of SA, an African country, being modelled on "western liberalism" is itself frightening

The apartheid system is a product of British liberals that was given its overt legal and brutal policy form by the Afrikaner Nationalists, who were themselves brutalised by imperial Britain. Seen in this light, the "western liberal model" is not a measure of wellness, but has left our society deeply scarred.

The drafters of our Constitution were very wise. They enjoined us in the preamble to tackle the unfinished business of our transition to democracy. First and foremost is to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

They understood the importance of healing multigenerational trauma, especially the humiliation of racism and sexism. A just society would emerge from our reconciliation as citizens united in our diversity. Such a society would not be based on a "western liberal model", but on social justice, which is the essence of ubuntu.

The idea of SA, an African country, being modelled on "western liberalism" is itself frightening. Where in the world has any country succeeded by denying the essence of its own culture? China has become the fastest growing and largest real economy by sustaining and celebrating the essence of its culture, while learning from the best elements of other cultures.

Africa has yet to boldly play to the strengths of its culture – oneness of the human race and respect for human dignity.

Maimane needs to embolden his stance and escape the trappings of "liberalism". He can position himself as a leader who is responsive to a society that is crying out for healing and values-based leadership and promotes social justice. Liberalism is a world view that has not only reached a ceiling globally, but is unlikely to be an effective mobilising force in our diverse society.

Success in political leadership is likely to be judged by the extent to which it can contribute to collaborative approaches to our problems.

Reconnecting the broken links between us is essential to enabling us to call ourselves unambiguously South Africans.

• Ramphele is cofounder of ReimagineSA.

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