The essence and frivolity of democracy

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Copy of si redronnieETCH INLSA ozizwe Madlala-Routledge and Ronnie Kasrils at the media launch of their Sidikiwe! Vukani! No-vote! campaign at Wits. The campaign urges voters who are unhappy with corruption in the ANC to vote for smaller parties. Photo: Antoine de Ras

As the May 7 elections draw nearer bizarre political developments continue to astound us, writes Mzwanele Mayekiso.

 

As our democracy matures, April 27 marked 20 years of democracy in South Africa, the boundaries are being stretched thin by political experiments that test the resilience of the project. As the May 7 elections draw nearer bizarre political developments continue to astound us.

Political philosopher and theorist Niccolo Machiavelli argues, in his book The Prince, for the retention of political power by any method possible including corruption and coercion, and perhaps that morality and reputation are not a requisite in political discourse. Might the current direction of politics be following Machiavelli’s political theorem?

First, the Helen Zille/Mamphela Ramphele political tango that ended in disgrace for both Agang and the DA showed us not only political naiveté but the shallowness of the current crop of leaders. We also know that a multinational businessman was holding the strings on this failed political development.

The Nkandla political entanglement, senior leaders defending corruption charges in the courts or found to have acted fraudulently by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela; and other developments within our movement such as the arms deal, and dodgy and questionable tenders put new meaning to the idea of corruption, post-apartheid.

 

But the recent reports of a Vote No campaign by some leaders of our movement surely takes the cake and not because it extends the limits of our understanding of the notion of democracy, but because the seniority of the campaign’s originators indicates the level of extreme annoyance and provocation at the perceived political fiddling within the organisation.

The dystopian imagery of a political environment in George Orwell’s decisive satirical work, Animal Farm, mirrors the current political period in which all the actors swear to society that should they be elected they would outperform the other while the actually existing conduct and behaviour belies the promise.

Though Orwell’s critical work sought to ideologically castigate the triumph of communism’s Soviet socialist experiment, it specifically was anti-Stalinist in essence.

But, generally, Orwell’s international acclaim is that of excoriating corruption and anti-democratic behaviour in any political environment. For example, while leaders commit to democratic entrenchment, candour and probity in governance. An example is that of DA leader Helen Zille’s erratic, tantrum-prone relationship with her colleagues and opponents which at times is impetuous and indignant – and hers seems to be the only voice in the party, where dissent means enmity. Her shabby treatment of Mbali Ntuli, DA’s Youth leader, and her characterisation of Malema as a “boy” reinforce this behaviour.

EFF leader Julius Malema appears to be acting and behaving like a king with signatures of despotism, with his post-liberation acclaim of commander-in-chief rather than an ordinary politician operating within a democracy – and his careless verbose political language and his crude treatment of opponents such as Naledi Pandor and President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma’s quiet, forever smiling political demeanour hides the ruthlessness of an intelligence operative and disdain for perceived deviant political viewpoints, with opponents finding themselves outside the organisation post-haste.

Examples of that are Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Julius Malema among others.

Such examples abound and at times cut across party political lines, including the DA and the ANC’s unity over their refusal to be transparent in revealing funding sources so that society can protect itself from international moneymen who control decision-making in nation states.

 

The current perception of the ANC, exploited by opposition parties, is that of a movement that not only protects but promotes wrongdoing for factional benefits.

This creates an image of a self-absorbed organisation that is more concerned with factional survival, and less about the transformation and development of the country.

The credo of the No-vote campaign is indeed unacceptable and perhaps politically indefensible for the actors to boldly appeal to society to boycott elections.

While it is a right in any robust democracy, like ours, for individuals to spoil their vote as a method of protesting and should perhaps be tolerated, it is essentially not a boycott call as it is about shifting loyalty from one party to another as a temporary solution to a political issue.

Though unfortunate this call speaks to the dynamism and maturity of our politics; and as such one that has to be vigorously challenged and defended within the normative values of democracy and not with disbelief, unabashed anger and raw emotions – though they should be allowed space as well.

Writing in Business Day, Alister Sparks calls it “emotionalism” tainting a wake-up call, as he prefers that Kasrils rather form a party than call for the spoiling of votes – a hard-won right.

In truth it would be better for the group to form a party instead of spoiling votes – as it sounds a bit reactionary.

It is clear though that Kasrils clarifies that the vote should rather go to smaller parties, emphatically excluding the DA from the list, which clearly might be Sparks’s fear.

But Sparks’ concern may just be allayed when the much-vaunted Socialist Party espoused by Numsa is formed as it surely will include this grouping – as the Numsa statements admits to a meeting between the union and the leaders of the campaign.

But we cannot agree with Susan Booysen’s characterisation of Kasrils’s action in these pages as “…one more step in the long walk away from the hegemony of the ANC”.

In essence and perhaps to the contrary, Kasrils move is about entrenching the ANC’s historic popularity in society as he calls for the symbolic boycott as a protest against perceived political misdirection within the organisation. Even if a party were to be formed as has been the case with the UDM, EFF and Cope the leaders have always been committed to the traditions of congress including its history, culture and politics – so as a fact the political hegemony of the broader ANC culture will not necessarily disappear because of the splintering.

The overzealous reaction by Gwede Mantashe who basically besmirched Kasrils’s political contribution to our freedom Struggle also has to be contextualised as the “AC Khumalo” – Kasrils nom de guerre – that we know and understand has impeccable political Struggle credentials that perhaps can’t be undermined because of his anti-election campaign.

We should seek to understand the issues that cause Kasrils to act the way he does, but we should not take part in character assassination and reinventing our history requires serious rebuttal.

Blade Nzimande follows with his own misdirected vitriolic attacks on

Kasrils that he is a “factory fault” that ideally should never have left the factory.

But, if Kasrils is one, we certainly are all imitations of what should have been, because he is one of us and with him we liberat- ed South Africa with all the faults that are now identified by Nzimande.

Might it also be possible that the fault may lie with those of us with politically thin skins who falsely believe that ours is the correct understanding and interpretation of the current ANC political trajectory and history?

The rebuilding of the ANC requires cool heads defined by political decorum and respect for others.

To accuse Kasrils of responsibility for the Bisho massacre is at best politically disingenuous, as the most unfortunate event referenced was attended by numerous leaders of our movement and Kasrils was just one of them; and to single him out two decades after the fact is to potentially play tricks with and trivialise our politics and painful history.

To characterise Kasrils as having a penchant for recklessness is to fudge historical experience; and, in fact, if by political recklessness we mean youthful energy and zeal for freedom, then Kasrils was no oddity in the mix.

There is something to be said, though, for senior leaders who find their voices after leaving active political service in the ANC.

When former President Thabo Mbeki was erroneously recalled, suddenly leaders’ spoke of forced silence under Mbeki leadership which they had apparently endured and had found the voice to confess about his perceived excesses after the fact just so that they could transition to the next regime and keep their jobs.

What will happen when Zuma’s term ends? Could we expect confessions from senior leaders now in government and in the national executive committee who will condemn Zuma’s leadership as they are now bending over backwards for the opportunity to serve him?

Ben Turok’s leaving Parliament and suddenly finding his voice about the appalling conditions in the ANC is perhaps in itself appalling.

He was an MP and on the ANC national executive committee since 1994, and has been content with the politics and salary until he retired and then spoke out about misdemeanors.

Machiavelli’s The Prince and Orwell’s Animal Farm have serious resonance with the current political environment as the space is full of actors who falsify history and politics for survival and sprinkle it with political coercion and blackmail to stay above the fray; as society is made to believe that black is brown and white is red.

We are watching with interest, because maybe in the absurdity of it all there might be order and the promise of entrenched democracy.

 

* Mayekiso is chief executive officer of the iKwezi Institute.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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