Trevor Manuel calls for active citizenship at the Discovery Leadership Summit.
“Societies and nations need to find a narrative that binds and compels particular responses. We need to ask ourselves about that narrative… and how we use that narrative to relate differently to each other and society,” he told delegates.
South Africa’s Constitution compelled the country to act in a particular way, to recall the injustices of the past, and to build a society where effectively all are equal before the law. It did not prescribe how this should be done; rather, as citizens, South Africa should consider how to solve a range of problems.
Many of these issues, such as social exclusion, were shared by other countries. Manuel described four megatrends facing the world. Firstly, constructing sustainable and inclusive economic growth was a challenge for all societies. Secondly, three major resources – water, energy and food – were constrained and needed to be managed. Geopolitics and governance were the third and fourth challenges.
“We live in a world that’s exciting at one level, but with underinvestment in young people at another. The baby boomers have taken too much of the table,” he said. In developed countries, young people were worse off than their parents for the first time in generations, with widespread unemployment and misplaced skills resulting in increasing disenfranchisement.
While the Second World War had produced important institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, these were now old and tired. “We haven’t been able to use crises for anything… Our leaders don’t want to take risk, and we’re incapable of reforming or redefining these institutions,” he said.
All of this was relevant to South Africa’s issues, said Manuel. The National Planning Commission, which he chaired, had sought to take a long term view of issues in order to give life to the “deep and profound” commitments of the Constitution.
South Africa had two key responsibilities: eliminate poverty and reduce inequality, he said. “We talk about macro economics as though it can change things, and we fail to understand the structural issues which drive change.”
The National Development Plan, he said, was high level, providing a basis for more detailed work. “We need to fly at a lower altitude. We need to use the NDP to change the conversation in the country,” said Manuel.
There was a need for a coherent discourse that would go beyond arcane debates, to support effective governance and create opportunities for participation. As a result, the NDP sought to “insource responsibility” to every citizen.
“The political party debate will continue, and the absence of decisions will continue, until citizens come alive and engage differently,” he said.