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tralac’s Message on Mandela Day 2019: Good Governance and the State

By Trudi Hartzenberg and Gerhard Erasmus
18 Jul 2019
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tralac’s Message on Mandela Day 2019: Good Governance and the State

Mandela Day serves to remind and inspire us to strive for social justice. This is the complex and multi-faceted challenge to adopt policies and strategies for addressing poverty and inequality and to promote economic development; and to do so under the guidance of the right compass and within the broader regional and multilateral context. The achievement of the goals associated with the commemoration of Mandela Day requires constant action and vigilance; but also, Good Governance. Social justice cannot be achieved amidst corruption, the abuse of power, and inward-looking national policies. Poverty, inequality and exclusion cannot be addressed without Good Governance.

Apartheid’s glaring injustices made it easy for South Africans to agree, in the post 1994 era, on a model new Constitution. South Africa now has a comprehensive constitutional order with effective institutions for protecting human rights and the rule of law. And it has an impressive record in ensuring Good Governance. The courts of law protect aggrieved individuals, issue rulings to ensure transparency, and frequently hold the executive accountable. The press and civil society are free. They actively contribute to the enforcement of the values underpinning the South African constitutional order.

However, there is darker side to the South African story. The extent to which Government and Parliament must defend themselves in the local courts against claims that they are violating the Constitution, numerous revelations about rampant corruption and looting of public resources, and neglect of citizens’ economic and social rights, show that an assessment of where South Africa now serves to remind us of the risks and dangers of bad governance.

The consequences of bad governance transcend national borders; they are felt in the whole Southern African region and beyond. Zimbabwe is perhaps the most glaring example; but it is not the only nation struggling with wide-spread corruption and the abuse of power. It is true that corruption is a world-wide phenomenon but Africa is particularly vulnerable to the costs.

Governance embraces a wide-ranging cluster of rules and principles for decision-making and exercise of public power. South Africans now witness how public power is often abused; when not exercised for the public good. It happens even though the South African Constitution demands the exact opposite.

Good Governance respects the rule of law and advances transparency. Accountability is another key tenet of Good Governance. State organs and structures exercising power must be accountable to those who will be affected by their decisions and actions. It is also about participation by men and women in the political and administrative processes affecting their lives. It is ultimately about real outcomes

In a globalized world, Good Governance cannot be restricted to the domestic domain. Mandela’s vision of justice was not limited to national political processes and objectives. He recognised the reality of an inter-connected global economy and African nations within that global context. He said:

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom. The steps that are needed from the developed nations are clear: The first is ensuring trade justice. I have said before that trade justice is a truly meaningful way for the developed countries to show commitment to bringing about an end to global poverty.”[1]

Good governance has become a legitimate and generally recognised international yardstick for ensuring economic development and fairness; within and beyond national borders. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. Studies about the achievement of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals indicate that among the institutions most affected by corruption are the judiciary and police. Corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost some developing countries billions of Dollars every year. The rate of children leaving primary school in conflict affected countries reached 50 per cent in 2011, which accounts to 28.5 million children, showing the impact of unstable societies on one of the major goals of the post 2015 agenda: education.

The rule of law and development have a significant interrelation and are mutually reinforcing, making it essential for sustainable development at the national and international level. The neglect of Good Governance requirements undermines poverty alleviation strategies and policies to address inequalities and inequities in societies.

The South African irony is that, while the constitutional order constitutes an official good governance guide, bad governance outcomes are often the reality. The South African context provides an additional Good Governance challenge: to promote regional stability and economic development. While South Africa is the regional economic power house, it faces its own, significant challenges, including unemployment, inequality and poverty. The smaller nations face the very same challenges; often in a more severe form. Southern Africa (and SACU in particular) is a de facto integrated economic and commercial space. South Africa cannot prosper and overcome its national challenges by implementing inward looking policies and by ignoring the regional realities. The markets of other African countries are vital for South African goods and services. Regional poverty, instability and bad governance affect us all.

Mandela Day is a reminder that Good Governance will only be achieved through dedicated effort, inclusivity, transparent structures, and vigilance. This is true for national, regional and multilateral levels of governance.


[1] At the Make Poverty History rally, London, 3 February 2005. http://developmenteducation.ie/blog/2013/12/in-words-and-deeds-nelson-mandela-on-development-and-international-justice/

About the Author(s)

Trudi Hartzenberg

Trudi Hartzenberg

Trudi Hartzenberg is the Executive Director of tralac. She has a special interest in trade-related capacity building. Her research areas include trade policy issues, regional integration, investment, industrial and competition policy.

Gerhard Erasmus

Gerhard Erasmus

Gerhard Erasmus is a founder of tralac and Professor Emeritus (Law Faculty), University of Stellenbosch. He holds degrees from the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein (B.Iuris, LL.B), Leiden in the Netherlands (LLD) and a Master’s from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has consulted for governments, the private sector and regional organisations in southern Africa. He has also been involved in the drafting of the South African and Namibian constitutions. He grew up in Namibia.

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