THE STATE OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN STATE
I wish first to thank the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust for this opportunity to join you and other partners as we acknowledge one of South Africa’s sages of social science, Harold Wolpe, on this occasion of the 10thMemorial Lecture .
Along with many others of his generation, he contributed not only to the analysis of the social manifestations of apartheid colonialism. He was also an activist in the destruction and creation that revolution entails. It is due to both these roles that the impact of his intellectual work was and remains that much more profound, because it combined the development of theoretical constructs and their testing and refinement in the crucible of struggle.
I was requested to reflect on The State of the State in South Africa today, an all-encompassing theme with sub-themes that would require lectures in their own right. To make my task easier, I have selected a few issues to illustrate the strategic challenges that South Africa faces as it strives to speed up social transformation.
Proceeding from the premise that we are all familiar with these issues, I will not seek to trace the evolution of the state as such – the Athenian and Spartan versions, the pre-colonial manifestations of social organisation as in the Mapungubwe and other African civilisations and the mfecane wars of nation-formation, or the rise of the colonial state in the geography today called South Africa. Nor will I attempt to interrogate the Weberian, micro-foundational and Marxist theories of the state and their utility.
For purposes of our discussion, I will merely draw from this tapestry, to extract some generalisations on the state of our state today; and the actions required to ensure that it plays an optimal role in leading the efforts to improve people’s quality of life. Presumptive as this may sound, I will draw inspiration from Harold Wolpe’s methodology of approaching notions of social organisation and the state as being undergirded by class dynamics.
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