LETTER: Time to acknowledge a taboo topic — tribal power structures
Most people trapped in tribalism are desperately short of options and the inevitable outcome is frustration and an easily misled search for answers
There seems to me to be a taboo topic in SA, an “elephant in the room”, that is not part of the general contention on how to solve SA’s biggest problems. I am referring to the tribal power structures entrenched both historically and politically in SA.
The problem with these tribal power constructs manifest in two main elements in the struggle for a better life for all. These are:
- The tribal power constructs are effectively feudal, power is brokered through patronage and contributes nothing to the fiscus.
- People who live within these structures are trapped and have an incredibly difficult path to claw their way out to a better life.
The first explains the inevitable slide into corruption we have experienced since 1994. Tribal power structures are financially maintained on the back of the state, with revenue from social grants and corruption. The governing party needs to maintain these power structures to keep its majority.
The second point is the most crushing. In a modern world economy based on ownership and freehold, the inability of people to own land (which is held in tribal trust) means people never have the means to access capital to start their own enterprises.
If the house grandma built in a rural area (or an informal settlement) was hers, she could pass it on to her children, who could then raise a loan to, for example, buy a bakkie and tools to start a building business, or for the children to go to university.
You only need to contrast this with a family living in modern SA, (Thabo Mbeki said there are two SAs, and I agree with him — a modern one and a tribal one) where the fixed assets built up over a lifetime of work, no matter how small, have a value that can be passed on to smooth the way for the next generation.
Most people trapped in tribalism are desperately short of options. The inevitable outcome is frustration and an easily misled search for answers, hence Dudula, EFF politics and so on.
The rest of Africa and the rest of the world look to SA as a modern state, with all the trappings such as infrastructure and world class institutions. These are the things needed to be successful and achieve a better life. And they are attractions equally to foreign investors and illegal immigrants.
All (barring a few) want SA to be a modern state, yet we allow feudal power structures to control the lives of more than half the population. To unknot this situation is a big ask of a lot of people, but perhaps the first step is simply to acknowledge it.
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