AmaB Analysis: We must reclaim the state

We cannot abandon the state, even though it feels like the state has abandoned us.

The events of the past few days have been shocking and depressing, coming as they did on top of the ongoing Covid crisis. 

The husband of one of our staff was trapped in Alexandra for hours by looting. Others have been concerned for relatives in KwaZulu-Natal.

Where I stay there has been shooting and mayhem in the valley just below us and our street was one of those that organised a residents’ street patrol throughout the night.

Aside from the psychological stress on all staff, it must be said that this kind of social and state failure represents a real challenge to our work.

Accountability journalism relies on at least a semi-functional system of political, social and institutional corrective processes and pressure — and a capacity in the state to respond.

What we are reaping is the harvest of a decade of state decay and criminal repurposing. 

The state has lost significant capacity and reach — as well as being the site of political contestation and competition for access to wealth and patronage. 

There are a whole range of ‘violence entrepreneurs’ who now challenge the basic social contract between citizens and the state. Zuma and Malema are only the most prominent.

The security services themselves have been compromised — and there is an increasing overlap between rogue state players, political formations, protection rackets and organised crime.

We are going to have to reassess our priorities and strategies in the light of these realities.

What is very evident in this crisis is the loss of capacity in state and political structures to manage communications and co-ordination. Even the private sector does not appear to have managed to weld together an effective channel – despite the very efficient communication platforms now available. 

In this climate, trusted media information is even more critical for citizens to adapt, survive and potentially to forge grass-roots networks that can protect their interests.

Even if we get through the immediate crisis, the state has been so compromised that its current make-up and orientation represents a longer-term threat to a sustainable democracy and improvement in the lives of the poorest South Africans.

We cannot abandon the state, even though it feels like the state has abandoned us.

We need to fight to reclaim it from bad actors — the selfish, the incompetent, the corrupt.

To do this we need to shine a light on what it is doing and not doing – something that can support and bolster those civil servants and service providers who want to do the right thing.

While it seems a distraction right now, our investigation into government’s emergency energy procurement programme provides a window on what can be achieved. 

We believe that our detailed reporting on the question-marks surrounding the Turkish-led Karpowership bid has not only informed you, but also widened the space for officials to do their jobs without fear or favour.

We and other media need to subject the criminal justice system – and the networks that prey on its weakness – to similar deep and sustained scrutiny. 

Our colleagues in the broadcast media have delivered a superhuman effort to show you what is happening on the ground — in the open.

We pledge to do our best to try to expose what is happening in the background — beneath the bloody veil.

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