The consultancy comprised over 20 people all-told made up of externals and internals to SA, roughly in equal balance (see a short reflection published in 1996 below). A process/inquiry design was developed collaboratively and enacted over several weeks. The outcomes of our learning activities were used to design an experiential workshop for key policy stakeholders towards the end (held at at Ithala Game Reserve). A report was produced:
Cousins, B. ed (1994) Issues and options for institutional change for rural development, agriculture and land reform. Summary and Overview. Policy Paper 9, Land and Agriculture Policy Centre, Johannesburg. 69pp.
I have now been back to South Africa five times since 1994 so have been able to maintain a watching brief on the trajectory and travails of South Africa's governance experiment underpinned, as it is, by espoused commitments to transformation (a key systems notion). As I write I am conscious that in 2012 the first cadre of SA citizens born post-apartheid were eligible to vote - these same citizens have only ever experienced an ANC-led government. This is a point made several times by Martin Plaut and Paul Holden in their 2012 book 'Who Rules South Africa?'
'Who Rules South Africa' which I have just finished reading is an excellent, timely book as many reviews testify. It provides a systemic analysis of a very complex situation - but what reception and impact has it had internally? As one internal review observes:
'Who Rules was published before the Marikana massacre, but the judgments in the book should stand the test of time. The fallout from the events of 2012 – the massacre, the strikes, Julius Malema’s attempts at mass mobilisation, infighting in the lead-up to ANC electoral conference in Mangaung in December will demand an update in time.'
It was also published before the deal about future leadership sealed in December 2012 between current president Jacob Zuma and former COSATU heavywight turned businessman, Cyril Ramaphosa. Justice Malala writing in the Guardian observes that:
"Just the day before Zuma's party victory a survey found that his national approval level is 52%, while the defeated Motlanthe's is at 70%. Speculation is that Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC's newly elected deputy leader, will slowly be pushed to become the face of the party and that his position as deputy president will take on elements of a prime minister, thus relegating Zuma to a ceremonial leadership role similar to the one played by Nelson Mandela in the 1990s.
But this is unlikely to happen. Zuma's victory can be ascribed largely to the fact that he is a man who is trying to do everything in his power to ensure that charges of corruption – controversially dropped against him under dodgy circumstances just weeks before he became president in 2009 – are not reinstated against him. For this to happen he has to keep his hand on the steering wheel, and is unlikely to cede power to a deputy."
In other words many of the systemic forces at play outlined in 'Who Rules' are likely to continue into the forseeable future. This will be a real test for the South African people and the institutions they put into place after 1994. Given my own experiences I found the chapter called 'Sharing the Beloved Country: Land Reform Since 1994' in 'Who Rules' of particular interest.
In this chapter Martin Plaut describes the saga of land reform since 1994, although many would argue it is a saga of 'no land reform'. I cannot reprise all the arguments here but it interests me that issues we uncovered in 1994 persist. One issue in particular has been particularly persistent - that of framing the transformation pathway as one from poor, black farmers or landless blacks to commercial black farmers in the image of contemporary white farmers. We tried to dispel this inadequate framing in 1994 but clearly without success. Our arguments were that different images of farming and how land contributed to rural livelihoods was needed. Plaut, quoting Ben Cousins (who was part of our consultancy) describes a form of multi-functional livelhood system emerging in KwaZulu-Natal. The extent to which agriculture and food production are part of the mix seems uncertain however. On a personal level I have no doubt that over time more blacks should have access to land for food production but at the moment policy makers seem to be pursuing simplistic rather than systemic strategies. This is bascially a social, political and ideological issue that is not amenable to simple reponses or responses from those who do not understand 'rural realities'.
Plaut (p.330) cites Edward Lahiff, a proponent of the view that landholdings are too large and that 'they should be broken up to allow the emergence (or re-emergence) of a peasant sector.' Clearly this could be part of a mixed policy response that as it progresses does not undermine food security and diminish, unduly, foreign earnings from agricultural exports.Unfortunately willingeness to respond to the complexity in a systemic manner seems to be largely missing.
The team then proceeded to operate within a systemic action research framework (Checkland 1991; Ison 1993) to follow cycles of investigation (interviews, visits, participant observation, analysis of primary and secondary data) and synthesis through the design of participatory workshops in which relevant stakeholders were able to learn their way to new appreciations or gain new insights (Cousins 1994). These workshops provided both challenge (to preconceived notions which seemed no longer relevant) and support (for enthusiasts who we recognised as the primary agents of change - see Russell and Ison 2000).
One of the outcomes of the process consultancy in SA in 1994 was the recognition of the need to build capacity to build capacity for sustainable natural resources management. Subsequently a position description appeared in the local press in connection with furthering the work we had initiated . The person skills sought included: (i) process skills and systems perspective on institutional development and capacity building; (ii) training, adult learning and group facilitation skills; (iii) experience with participatory learning approaches in field and workshop settings (e.g. PRA); (iv) experience with working in large bureaucratic public agencies and facilitating institutional change; (v) personal authority and presence; (vi) negotiation and conflict management skills; (vi) willingness to travel extensively, particularly to remote rural areas.
This is a challenging job description and all too clearly such people are in short supply, but, I would argue, increasingly needed. For this reason the Open University is collaborating with IIED and other partners to bring the economies and recognised success of supported open learning to the global need to build capacity for sustainable natural resource management. Our approach will be systemic and clearly recognise the need for institutional change, when relevant, to be inside our system of concern."
Looking back on these reflections it is clear that people with these skills are still in short supply, but much needed and not only in South Africa. I like to think that our OU STiP MSc is helping to fill the void.
Checkland, P., 1991: From framework through experience to learning: The essential nature of action research. In Nissen, H. E., Klein, H. K. and Hirscheim, R. (eds) Information Systems Research: Contemporary Approaches and Emergent Traditions. Elsevier, Amsterdam.