NOTICE | Deon Pretorius: How do we deal with South Africa’s “culture of destruction”?

A suspected looter shoots a few items on the ground outside a vandalized shopping center in Vosloorus.

The short, medium and long term development processes must be implemented by a government capable of a coalition of agencies to ensure that the conditions that fuel frustration, anger and destructive conflict are removed if we are to get rid of of the ‘culture of destruction’, writes Deon Pretorius.


What can be done about the “culture of destruction” in South Africa? This is a question that was asked to me following the publication of my recent article entitled Change the mindset and conditions that fuel destructive protest.

The article makes two points on what to do about the destructive protest, looting and riots. One concerns mentalities and the other the context in which they develop and in which people wage their struggles.

First, we need to understand that there is a particular set of ideas or mindset that inhabits our political landscape that seeks to justify destructive protests, and it could be argued that some people see this as a license to proceed. looting and crime.

Class structural inequality

The mindset I am referring to is associated with revolutionary change and Marxist class conflict as a means of change. Where does it come from? It is based on the 19th century thought of Karl Marx, and has been modified over time, but is still very much alive around the world. It is still propagated by most sociologists and many sociologists, leftist politicians and trade unionists as the only solution to structural class inequality.

Marxist analyzes of a country like South Africa have value even if they reduce the multifaceted complexity of social reality to class relations. While Marxists help identify and understand some of the structural tensions and sources of conflict in contemporary society, it is now widely recognized that the solutions they offer are neither realistic nor sustainable.

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Marxists and their supporters are all doing us a great disservice by clinging to this one-dimensional, deterministic view of the world and of human beings that puts too much emphasis on the human inclination to conflict. They underestimate the much more powerful tendency towards cooperation and collaboration. It is time for my college colleagues to start looking at the world and their fellow human beings through eyes that recognize the potential to make the world a better place and stop this endless and unnecessary angst over the tragedy of victimization.

Long term plan

So what is the alternative? The alternative is a “developmental mindset”. A state of mind that understands that the undesirable situation can be changed but is not going to be transformed by dramatic short-term cathartic action, but requires a long-term plan and strategy. It must be a process that requires a gradual and cumulative build-up of social agency and systemic capacity to become more inclusive over time.

The only way to change mindsets is to make people understand that the revolutionary approach is destructive and self-destructive. The developmental mindset will allow them to work with others to transform society from the current junk to a better society over time.

It is not a naive view of the world. This is the only realistic and pragmatic option we have!

The second point is that these mindsets and actions occur in a context. They don’t happen in a vacuum. People’s actions take place in a context that influences their actions, and if those contexts are not transformed, the conditions for a culture of destruction will prevail. It is not an excuse but an explanation of why something is happening. There are understandable reasons why people are frustrated and angry in a deeply unequal society.

Short-term satisfaction

However, apart from not justifying destruction, it is essential to understand that such destructive action will only bring short-term psychological satisfaction and shift power and property from the “haves” to the “have-nots”. . The challenge is what happens next! The questions and challenges are: How to ensure that the causes of destruction are reduced? How to prevent power from leading to corruption? How can the system be maintained and even strengthened so that promises made to previously excluded sectors of society can be kept? The study of revolutions of Marxist inspiration shows that they do not provide adequate answers to these questions. It is not a long term solution. This will not solve the problem!

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The only solution is a short, medium and long term development process that will remove the conditions that fuel frustration, anger and destructive conflict. It means a plan or strategy that is implemented by a very capable government or a coalition of agencies working together to combine their capacities to make it work.

This has happened in every country that has found a way out of large-scale poverty and socio-economic exclusion. This includes China (since it began to open up and reform its economy in 1978), the Nordic countries (from 1930 to the 1970s) and the Southeast Asian Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong between the 1960s and 1990s). The same process occurred over a period of almost 100 years during the industrialization of Europe and the United States between 1760-1820 and 1840.

Case to learn

We may disagree with much of what has happened in these contexts, but the point is that they are all examples of development over time. Indeed, we can choose from their experiences to chart our own course (as the Nordics and the Chinese did), but there is an alternative, even for South Africa and other African countries. It also seems to me that there is more good news in terms of timeline as it tends to get shorter as one can learn from the experiences of others. The industrial revolution of Europe and the United States took much longer, perhaps because they had no role model to follow, but we in Africa and South Africa have no shortage cases from which we can learn.

If we can start working on these destructive mindsets and the contexts that feed off them then, we can run this country in 15 to 20 years (which means we could have done it since 1994). If we can agree on a comprehensive development strategy and if we can solve the agency problem; it’s who is responsible for what.

– Professor Deon Pretorius is affiliated with the Department of Development Studies at Nelson Mandela University and is the Managing Director of Development Partners. He writes in a personal capacity.

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