What Italy's 'Stati Generali' can teach South Africa


  1. Disclaimer: Natale Labia's views do not reflect the official position of TSA.


The 17[sup]th[/sup] century Villa Doria Phamphilj lies in the Gianicolo area of the ancient city of Rome.


Built by the aristocratic Doria family and now the largest public park in the city, it is well worth a visit. Symmetric, elegant and mannerist in the finest post-Baroque way, you can spend a day meandering through the gardens and admiring the collection of Renaissance art.


However, not at the moment. This week the villa is closed to the public as it happens to be the venue for the Stati Generali, a phrase which evades translation. "General States" would be close but devoid of the necessary gravitas.


The Stati Generali is the much heralded week-long conference which purports to imagine, design and strategise life in the post Covid-19 Italian Republic.


The process began with an address to the nation on April 3. Amongst other measures, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a "taskforce of experts" to be appointed to deliver a plan for the economic, social and environmental reconstruction of the country.

Italian 'dream team'


Vodafone's former CEO Vittorio Colao will head the "dream team" of 17 well-known Italian experts from outside politics.


They include top consultants from Boston Consulting Group, economists such as Mariana Mazzucato (who has also advised President Cyril Ramaphosa), as well as statisticians, public health specialists and professors in business administration from the universities of Harvard, Luiss and Bocconi.


The 102-step plan to rebuild Italy was unveiled last week, and it will be debated at Villa Doria Phamphilj over the next seven days.


European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, ECB president Christine Lagarde and IMF President Kristalina Georgieva will also be in the discussions.


The timing of this may be a strange occasion to think about South Africa post the Covid-19 crisis.


My view is that South Africa is, in a sense, staring into an abyss. However, as Nietsche wrote: "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee." 


Before becoming a monster like this virus, perhaps this is the time for South Africa to have an honest discussion about the country it wants to be.

Non-political debate


I see this as a non-political, applied, frank debate that uses ideas from outside the stilted and sclerotic world of the ANC and South African politics in general.


I believe that democracy in South Africa is for all intents broken. Power is held by Luthuli House. Parliament and our democracy rubber-stamp those policies dreamt up by the ANC NEC at various lekgotlas.


This has resulted in a loss of legitimacy; how can South Africans feel they are consulted as to the future of the country when actual power is enacted only every five years by the few thousand voting members of the ANC?


What, then, in the aftermath of the most devastating social and economic crisis of our generation, is the solution?


I have no idea. However, I can suggest that the solution, or rather set of solutions, should be found outside of politics.


If Ramaphosa wants to take ownership of the reconstruction he should give it away.


He should assign the task to a non-political group of experts.


This would not be without precedent. In the same way that the country came together through the process of the Codesa negotiations from 1991, there needs to be a similar process of inclusive soul-searching to plot the path ahead.

Presidential taskforce


There should be a Presidential taskforce for the Rebuilding of South Africa, consisting of well-respected and non-political experts from business, academia, consulting, education and public health. A plan that is not ANC, that is not Treasury, that is not DTI. A plan that is untarnished with baggage that is the death knell of any currently in circulation.


This plan should not involve many names, I would explicitly exclude Trevor Manuel, Tito Mboweni, Ebrahim Patel, Jeremy Cronin and Joel Netshitenzhe.


At this extremely delicate moment for our country and our democracy, it is right that politicians should hand the way forward to those South Africans who have proven they can find solutions which can be delivered on.


We need a collective platform for rebirth. We need to reimagine what kind of country South Africa wants to be. We must be bold and elucidate the future.


There is no time to waste.


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