27/11/2017 02:59 GMT | Updated 27/11/2017 02:59 GMT

Exclusion And Corruption Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

'The governance of the sector which has become synonymous with the inequality that manifests in broader society has been the preserve of the... elites.'

Mike Hutchings/ Reuters
Mosebenzi Zwane, South Africa's Minister of Mineral Resources.

David Hume famously wrote that "Force is always on the side of the governed". It is the governed who have the power, which is why rulers have to find ways to keep them from using that power. Or as Walter Lippman, a famous 20th-century public intellectual once said, we have to protect the responsible men, the intelligent minority, from the "trampling and roar of the bewildered herd".

Or more to the point, as Janan Ganesh recently wrote in the Financial Times; "The poor will always outnumber the rich. Technocracy can protect the rich from the poor".

In modern society, this includes the use of "democratic" systems that create sufficient appearance of public control, but which concentrate and maintain power among the "responsible men and intelligent minority".

It is on this foundation, behind the scenes, away from the scrutiny of public involvement, that the schemes of corruption and deception are allowed to spread and mutate like the cancer they are, and on which the seeds of inequality are nurtured and grown.

It was in one such behind-the-scenes exercise of power that the proclamation by the minister of mineral resources of the 3rd Mining Charter was made. While the proclamation drew the immediate ire of the Chamber of Mines and precipitated a stand-off between the chamber and the minister, it also inadvertently opened the door to the possibility of advancing a deeper, more structural political solution to the mining question.

For decades, if not centuries, the governance of the sector which has become synonymous with the inequality that manifests in broader society has been the preserve of the political, economic and labour elites. It can thus be no surprise that these elites have been the main beneficiaries of a mining regime that continues to leave massive destruction and poverty in its wake.

Jeffrey Greenberg/ UIG/ Getty Images
South Africa Johannesburg Main Street Mall Corporate Mining District Walk Chamber of Mines Langlaagte Stamp Mill sign information.

The mining sector is itself a useful prism through which to understand the problems of inequality in broader society, and the inability of both the state and business to address the historical injustices of the past while creating opportunities for the future.

At the heart of the failure to transform the sector from one which has historically benefitted the colonial elites to one which benefits society more generally, is the mistaken notion that only a few responsible men and the intellectual minority, engaged in backroom deals, have the answers to our complex problems.

This popular notion among business and political elites is cynically at variance with the basic demands of the South African struggle for liberation, as well as the growing sentiment across the globe for greater inclusion and more just outcomes. This elitism also now increasingly appears to be an anachronistic mode of governance that has no place in the future.

Historically the anti-apartheid struggle had at its core the demand for the inclusion of the majority in the regulation and governance of society. The Constitution acknowledges this central requirement of any future society, and has approved this very notion of broad participation as being central to a society based on human dignity. However, the state and organised business have more often than not tried to circumvent this foundational principle of our democracy.

Even as we venture into the 21st century, the age-old wisdom and historical demand for the inclusive governance to which all peoples have striven are finding new and innovative ways to make their case. Take blockchain technology as one example of how the universal wisdom of inclusive open and transparent governance helps to reduce corruption and secures more equitable outcomes.

The blockchain's main innovation is a public transaction record of integrity without a central authority. Blockchain technology offers everyone the opportunity to participate in secure contracts over time, but without being able to avoid a record of what was agreed at that time. Fraud is prevented through block validation.

The blockchain does not require a central authority or a trusted third party to coordinate interactions or validate transactions. A full copy of the blockchain contains every transaction ever executed, making information on the value belonging to every active address (account) accessible at any point in history.

Hopefully, the courts will provide clarity and certainty to government and the Chamber of Mines on the constitutional right of communities to be consulted on matters that directly affect them.

The essence of blockchain technology employs the same essence of a democracy, in which open, transparent participation of all users/citizens guarantees corruption-free transactions and outcomes.

The Pew Research Center recently published a global survey of attitudes to democracy, and even in the West, the proverbial home of liberal democracy, fully 70 percent of those surveyed wanted a democracy where "citizens, not elected officials, vote directly on major national issues to decide what becomes law".

This global reaction to the growing inequality in the world –– and what is increasingly perceived as a lack of democracy –– should serve as a siren warning to us that in a country where inequality is particularly severe, repeating the patterns of dominance imbibed from the apartheid state cannot lead to more just outcomes than the apartheid state delivered.

The seminal mistake we make in preferring elite technocratic responses to what is generally a lack of democratic participation of people in their own governance is informed by mistaken notions such as Van Zyl Slabbert's claim that "apartheid self-destructed because of a massive crisis of delivery".

This approach to governance, which suggests that all a government has to do is to deliver services to keep the citizens docile and contained in their townships and villages, is similar to the current approach by the democratic state that seeks to downplay the political claims of citizens to inclusion by reducing them to a paternalistic matter of delivery.

The application by Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) to the Pretoria High Court as part of the case seeking to have the proclamation of the Mining Charter reviewed, is thus more than a plea by desperately poor communities for service delivery. It is, at its core, their claim to their constitutional right to be included in their own governance.

Hopefully, the courts will provide clarity and certainty to government and the Chamber of Mines on the constitutional right of communities to be consulted on matters that directly affect them, and put a stop to the doublespeak of token consultations and cynical exclusion that have been the bedrock of the most unequal society in the world.