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UJ’s Prof Mcebisi Ndletyana discusses the state of our public institutions

The dire state of South Africa’s public institutions cries for attention. This was the opening statement of Mcebisi Ndletyana when he delivered his Professorial Inaugural address at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Tuesday, 19 July 2022.

In his address, titled Public Institutions and Political Culture: An Offshoot of History and Exigencies of the Moment, Professor Ndletyana explained practical problems that impact on the human condition in keeping with the tradition of political science: to grapple with practical issues that are evident in society.

  •  Professorial Inauguration Lecture available here

Prof Ndletyana, who is a renowned political commentator, argued that the current challenges in the country stem from an institutional failure to adapt to the new political order and the obsoleteness of some of the institutional measures that were introduced at the inception of the democratic state.

“My contention here, this afternoon, is that the precarity of our public institutions is a function of incongruence between their form, on the one hand, the challenges of the moment, on other hand. They have failed to adapt and have, consequently, become outdated. Some adopted interim measures to aid the transition, but those measures have since lapsed into permanency. We have not remolded our institutions, as we ought to have to meet the challenges of the time. And, this is a collective indictment, for institutions reflect who we are, an embodiment of our collective identity,” said Prof Mdletyana.

He discussed the subject of what constitutes an ‘ideal state’ in political science, and the theoretical postulations thereof, the role of public institutions as both incubators and instruments of the state, and provided a brief history to illustrate the point that states, manifested through public institutions, are a product of history, class structure and social factors.

Adds Prof Ndletyana: “My argument borrows from a school of thought – within the theory of public institutions – that underlines history and social context as key determinants of public institutions. In other words, public institutions, which embody the country’s foundational values and are instruments to provide the citizenry with services, are failing to live up to their promise. It is understandably tempting to conclude that South African public life has become bereft of moral consciousness.”

He concluded:  “For transformative, sustainable changes to happen much wider societal agitation is needed. Political costs prompt politicians into action. The present rumblings are encouraging. But, South Africa is crying for much more. Inefficiencies of public institutions reflect our own, collective weakness. Only an active and outraged citizenry can affect meaningful change. Vukani bantu!”

Watch the full Professorial Inauguration address:

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