Lorenzo A Davids writes that the survival of astute democracies depends on leaders’ ability to take risks aligned to their convictions, but that can also lead to their ostracisation. Picture: GCIS
Lorenzo A Davids writes that the survival of astute democracies depends on leaders’ ability to take risks aligned to their convictions, but that can also lead to their ostracisation. Picture: GCIS

Another Voice: You cannot be silent in the arena

By Lorenzo A Davids Time of article published Aug 18, 2021

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Politicians are often wrong. The survival of astute democracies depends on their leaders’ ability to take risks aligned to their convictions, but that can also lead to their ostracisation.

However, their ability to articulate such risk to the country and people and align a nation behind them is the difference-maker.

Author and politician Winston Churchill was one of the world’s most astute political risk-takers. He had his fair share of failed political actions. His actions and oratory at a time of crisis established the astuteness of his leadership of the British people.

His speech on October 8, 1938, in the British parliament, against his own political party and leader’s appeasement policies, represented by the signing of the Munich agreement on September 29, displayed his leadership convictions.

He took the risk of criticising the policies of his party in a full sitting of parliament. He referred to the Munich agreement, which Britain signed with the Nazis in 1938, as Hitler, “instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course”.

In his speech, he referenced the Danegeld, a hated tax instituted to protect Britain against invasion by the Danes. He quoted from the AngloSaxon Chronicle, which stated: “All these calamities fell upon us because of evil counsel, because tribute was not offered to them at the right time nor yet were they resisted; but when they had done the most evil, then was peace made with them”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa appeared before the Zondo commission into state capture last week.

His famous words there were given on August 12, when he said: “I had five options: resign, speak out, acquiesce and abet, remain and keep silent, or remain and resist.

“The final option, which was what I chose, was to remain in my position as deputy president – not to resign, not acquiesce and not to be confrontational – but to work with others in the executive to resist abuses and bring about change where we could, and to sustain the work of social and economic transformation.

“This meant ‘staying in the arena’, with the challenges, limitations and frustrations inherent in doing so, but it was the course of action that had the greatest likelihood of bringing state capture to an end, restoring the institutions of state and defending our democracy.”

While he was speaking, I recalled another South African president, at his treason trial on April 20, 1964, saying: “But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all … It is a Struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a Struggle for the right to live.

“During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this Struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

The risks required to defend democracy are displayed in how leaders’ convictions are expressed at times of crisis. Churchill addressed his own party in public, and Mandela addressed a hostile apartheid state – yet both unambiguously stated their convictions with the precision of a missile. They did not stay silent in the arena.

Churchill’s convictions led to the British war efforts to defeat Nazism.

Mandela’s convictions sent him to prison.

Ramaphosa’s silent peace-making with those “who had done the most evil” took us into a decade of delinquency.

Ramaphosa was wrong to remain silent. His policies of appeasement have made our democracy weaker.

* Lorenzo A Davids.

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

Cape Argus

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