Populist democracy has failed us all

Matt Buckland suggested my rant about democracy the other day was the same argument made by the Apartheid regime.  He also pointed me to a post on Thought Leader titled "No, dear, that’s not mob rule — it’s called democracy" in which Stephen Friedman talks about how the Polokwane conference is an illustration of democracy in action.  Based on his experiences at the conference I agree with him.  The delegates came together, heard each other out (to a degree) and voted for their preferred candidate.  That doesn’t mean Zuma’s election is ok and that this democratic process is all good. 

Jacob Zuma’s election as president of the ANC is shameful. It is also a product of a version of democracy I am not in favour of. I believe in a democracy which works for the benefit of all citizens and does not become a tyranny of the majority. Zuma worked the popular vote by making all sorts or promises and making all the right noises. That doesn’t mean that his election is good for the country at all. Internationally people have expressed dismay that Zuma could rise to this position and that he would have the audacity to aim for the presidency of this country after what we have seen.

This is a low point for the ANC itself which, after the last decade or so of little real progress in many important areas, has now elected a president based on a facade and not because he is the right person for the job and has the necessary skills, integrity and drive to take this country to new heights. I am not optimistic about a South Africa governed by Zuma and his cronies and I believe this will be the beginning of a dark time for this country where we return to an era not unlike the Apartheid era except it will have the apparent legitimacy of the majority.

While Mbeki’s government hardly ushered us into a new Golden Era of milk and honey, I don’t see Zuma taking us to the Promised Land either.  Since he began to maneuver himself into the position he currently holds he has consistently said what his supporters want him to say.  He sings Struggle songs intended to play on his supporters’ emotions, kowtows to business making all sorts of promises and aligns himself with the right unions.  All of this is a transparent ploy to garner as much popular support as he can to rise to power.  Both he and his advisors are linked to clear instances of corruption and poor judgment.  He has demonstrated a disrespect for the law by undermining the Constitutional Court’s ruling against the death penalty (another heartstring moment) and I am yet to see any of his own ideas and principles shine through.  I am reminded of the saying that a person who stands for everything stands for nothing and Zuma fits that bill for me.

What does all of this have to do with democracy?  Well, this may be asking a bit much of the ANC and the South African electorate but where is the enlightened choice for president of the ANC and future president of the country.  Has everyone falled into line behind Zuma because he was the strongest contender for the hot seat against a seemingly unpopular Mbeki?  Is that what it takes to run a country, have the most friends with their own agendas?  Where is the candidate who stands for something, has integrity and respect as a leader?  Where is the next Mandela?  Democracy is a double edged sword, not because a party I don’t support is in power, it is a double edged sword because it allows for totally inappropriate and potentially harmful leaders to be elected in the place of the kinds of leaders we really need in this country.  It facilitates Zuma’s election instead of someone who will actually be good for this country.  That is why democracy is not always such a good thing, certainly not this flavour of democracy.  If you are curious about just how badly this can go, take a look up north at our neighbour Zimbabwe and look at how popular Mugabe is with his supporters, the war veterans.  Zuma’s election opens the door to that possible future here.

So how can we usher in a more enlightened democracy?  We need stronger leaders to rise through the ranks and the millions who support the ANC and who presumably have their say through their representatives at these ANC conferences need to know who their leaders are behind the Struggle songs.  What do their leaders really stand for?  What kinds of people are they?  I sometimes wonder if these people who comprise the lion’s share of the ANC’s support base are not intentionally being kept uninformed and being fed Struggle rhetoric to keep them compliant.  As for the educated members of the ANC, this is wishful thinking but I would like to see less of a focus on personal gain and a greater focus on what is best for the country.  Oh, and once again, has no-one read George Orwell’s Animal Farm??

For now my hope is that the opposition parties will somehow present enough of an alternative to pull the ANC away from an even greater majority in Parliament.  Our last hope is that the ANC not be able to rewrite the Constitution at will.  We must have that final protection between a majority party drunk with power and a virtual dictatorship in this country.

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