Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why SA's democracy isn't working

It is impossible to glance at the headlines, let alone open a newspaper or turn on the radio or TV news these days, without meeting some fresh story, editorial, article, cartoon and any number of readers and listeners complaining about the ANC and some party official or other.
People the world over blame the government for their troubles, don’t we know it. But you would have thought by now this really is too much. Even amiable President Zuma managed to look concerned over the weekend and said something to the effect that it is all getting a bit out of hand.

In case you thought this must make the party get a grip at last (and credit where it’s due: it did manage to expel the headlong Mr Malema in the end: at least for the time being), the view is that this week’s ANC policy conference will not change a thing. How can it? Very often general discontent cannot be traced to specific policies while specific discontents are generally forgotten with time. If you want a trip down memory lane, try to recall the uproar over 'quiet diplomacy'. Remember how angry we were with government policy on Aids? Are they weighed in the balance now?

No: understandably, the public are more aroused by the things that touch them closest: by cronyism, by the incompetence and maladministration of government. Some intellectuals may go on about the separation of the powers, threats to the independence of the judiciary and other arcane matters, but it is the shambles in Limpopo education, lawlessness amid the blue-light brigades, the Mercs and the jollies at home and abroad that really get at people where they live.

It is worrying because many seem genuinely lost for an explanation of why 'democracy' should have brought all this down on our heads. Wasn't it supposed to usher in a better life for all? Some even issue dire warnings that SA is inevitably going the way of the rest of Africa - whatever it is they mean by saying that. Or that we've followed in the footsteps of President Robert Mugabe next door and all is already lost.

What disturbingly few do is draw the obvious conclusion: cast your vote for a different party next time. 

Now before scoffing - or exploding - at the very suggestion, consider. However unkind we are to one another on the matter, most of us know about the struggle and the injustices of apartheid. We have read our learned professors' analyses about legacies and identity politics. We understand when they tell us we are stuck with the way things are because that is the way things are.

Nevertheless it is still you, after all, who are complaining more and more about the government these days and it is only you, after all, who have the means to do something about it: you can change your individual vote in a secret ballot. (It may seem a terribly cynical thing to say, but if the idea of that seems unacceptable, close your eyes, make your cross somewhere else next time, and don't tell anyone about it.)

Of course, at this point the usual objection is 'my vote will not make any difference.' That is very possible the first time and even the second time. But how will you ever know if you don't make a start? And if you worry that the 'other lot' won't be any different, remember you are free to switch your vote back again. That's right. Be really hard-faced about it. Meanwhile you'll have given the current lot a shock that will do them as well as the whole country good.

That's the point the doomsayers always miss. It is actually their job, your job, our job, to give the good guys in the ruling party (as we dutifully call it) the motivation they need to clear out some of the bad guys we are forever complaining about.

It's a tough call, but in a democracy we are all called upon to make it. A lot of what is wrong in SA today is down to you.

This article was first published in Politicsweb on June 25 2012

1 comment:

Bert said...

The irony of democracies is that, unlike fascist states, police states, or some other kind of dictatorship, they create comparatively more space or 'freedom' for crime (including corruption) to flourish, and it is up to the law-enforcement agencies (the police and the criminal justice system) to keep it in check. But the atmosphere of 'openness' in a democracy is far more conducive to crime than in a police state, for obvious reasons. In a democracy, unlike a police state, criminals can often stay out of prison indefinitely, because of the human rights culture that goes hand in hand with democracy, unlike a police state, where one gets locked up at the drop of a hat. In sum: the price one pays for living in a democratic state, is that many of the things one wishes to avoid most, are among those that CAN flourish, depending on the seriousness of the democratic government in question to root it out. When I lived in the US in the 1980s, near new York city, I often went there to go to the opera or to visit museums, and we always wore sneakers, to be able to outrun the criminals - this was accepted practice. Soon afterwards, Rudi Giuliani became mayor of New York, and showed what could be done if the political will is there to combat crime. He 'cleaned New York up' in no time, so that it became a relatively safe city again. The same could be done here if the political will was there.