Organising In A Democracy, Isn't That A Contradiction?

Thursday, 20 April, 2017 - 08:54

In a constitutional democracy it doesn't make sense that we have to organise to remind democratically elected leaders of their constitutional obligations

In a constitutional democracy such as the one we enjoy in South Africa, it doesn't make sense that we have to organise to remind democratically elected leaders what their constitutional obligations are —not their party's constitution but the republic's constitution.
However, it is necessary to speak out against an out-of-touch government and we must do so consistently.
A lot of people are marching and staging stay-aways, most of whom were quiet or condemning students, Marikana miners and many protesters across the country when they did the same. We live in a democracy, can't we expect parliament to deal with most the issues we march and protest for? If not, we can recall or vote out members of parliament and replace them with new ones, surely. However, we all know, it's not that simple.
It would be naïve to expect the tenets of democracy to operate efficiently in South Africa, to bring us accountable leaders and the fruits of democracy which are espoused in our constitution. With our history and the social stratification we have, the answers are not simple. They are more nuanced. So to expect South Africans to swing their votes from the African National Congress (ANC) to, say, the Democratic Alliance (DA) which is the biggest opposition party, is to be out of touch with South African politics.
The ANC enjoys a legacy of standing up against a tyrannous regime and that memory is still fresh in people's minds; the DA does not have as much of such a legacy. The fact that the DA is seen as racist and attracting the white vote, and was until recently led by Helen Zille, perhaps still does not sit well with black voters. Zille's utterances add fuel to the flames. So swinging votes becomes harder, at least the one that would result in a new executive leadership.
Another important factor to consider is that the two parties are not as distinct in their discourse and politics as the Democratic Party and Republican Party of the United States are in their rhetoric and politics. Therefore it makes it more difficult for people to move between them. Yet there's a sense that people want a leadership change, at least a change of the national executive following the many scandals in Jacob Zuma's presidency.
Max Du Preez pointed out yet another one of our contradictions when he called out many white South Africans for putting up such a strong opposition against this government but not so much against the apartheid government. Ouch!
However, these are not the only contradictions we have in South Africa. For instance, we are the richest (or second-richest) country on the continent, but are also an extremely unequal society. The majority of live in poverty and an overwhelming majority of those are black or coloured, with the two groups together making almost 90 percent of SA's population. Over 1 in 3 South African adults are not employed, again race can help you predict who 33 percent is.
You could almost perfectly apply the eighty-twenty rule to the land question. That is almost 80 percent of the land is in the hands of just 20 percent of the population, with race virtually being a predictor of where one falls. Yet we do not see as much motion and organisation to change these things. In fact, those who dare raise these contradictions are condemned for being too radical and divisive. Look at what happens to the Economic Freedom Fighters every time they do.
There are those within the ANC who are slightly changing their tune. They are (or were) avowed followers of the current president and criticised anyone and everyone who spoke against him. Do you remember Zwelinzima Vavi or Julius Malema, and how they were shunned? Some ANC members are talking about separating the man from the organisation forgetting that it is the organisation that gave South Africa the man, not once but twice despite his track record as a controversial deputy president and questionable president in his first term.
So there is no doubt we live in a society full of contractions. The road ahead is long and dim. However, it can turn for the better as much as it has recently turned for the worse as long as we actively take part in our democracy. Organising in a democracy is a contradiction, but then again so is our democratic society. It would do us well to remember to organise consistently against injustice however.

Photo courtesy: TimesLive


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