Lorenzo A Davids writes that democracies need leaders who carry the duty of statehood honourably and we need to be more verbal on what we do and don’t agree on. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/POOL
Lorenzo A Davids writes that democracies need leaders who carry the duty of statehood honourably and we need to be more verbal on what we do and don’t agree on. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/POOL

#changethestory: When will the grass of democracy ever have time to grow?

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 16, 2021

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by Lorenzo A Davids

The Kenyan proverb “when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers” is at the centre of much of our global politics. Democracies worldwide are descending into a façade of point-scoring and petty politics while staying in bed with each other to control the system.

In South Africa, the ANC NEC is pretending to be in a big battle for the ANC’s soul, but ultimately they all feed each other and themselves from the same trough.

The DA’s troubles with right-wing political cultures is busy overtaking its values of liberalism. The rise of a conservative nationalist culture in its leadership is threatening the liberal values it holds and future alliances it may seek to build.

In the US, Donald Trump survived another impeachment trial. Not because he is innocent, but because he peered into the souls of the Republican Party and saw the one thing they lacked – courage to pursue justice – and he went and occupied that vacant room and bought their souls.

Trump now owns real estate in every GOP soul. They have built a political prison of narcissism and misogyny for themselves that will eat their own children. They have lost the rudder of justice. It will hopefully be found by a future generation. A decade of moral darkness has descended on the US.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of being complicit in the mass murder of Muslims from his days as leader of Gujarat State. His Hindu nationalist leanings has destroyed the long-cherished secular identity of the world’s largest democracy.

Extremism in any form is a fight that always ends tragically. In every struggle for power, where leaders with multiple words and mighty armies descend on each other, it’s the ordinary people who go hungry, suffer and die. The Yemeni civil war between the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi armed movement has resulted in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Over 3 million people have been displaced by the war, with thousands facing critical trauma and starvation.

The rendering as ambiguous the moral compass that guides justice is the beginning of the descent into the political abyss. Add to that the rejection of meaningful (as opposed to compliant) inclusivity as a leadership doctrine, as well as rendering as barren the institutions of good governance, and we will find that the grass of any democracy will be well on its way to being obliterated in this battle of the elephants.

What lessons do we learn from this political chaos?

Every democracy requires leaders who honourably carry the duty of statehood. When leadership descends into debating society contests, vile corruption or even war and extermination of others, then the grass of democracy will never flourish.

Every democracy needs a leadership class that knows when to step up its efforts to advance a capable state and when to step aside if those efforts are not successful.

In addition, we need an electorate that will ensure leadership transitions are frequent and relevant to sustain the vitality and prosperity of its statehood.

When ordinary citizens have to feed the egos of politicians to get safety and prosperity, and when critiques are taken as criticisms, we build a political prison that will destroy our souls and consume our offspring. Donald Trump, Jacob Zuma, Helen Zille and Jesse Duarte are all products of a culture war. Their struggle is for the dominance of their values, their beliefs, and their practices. They don’t trade on societal cohesiveness. They trade on issues where there are societal disagreements and polarisation.

No democracy can survive when we are most verbal on what we disagree about and silent about the things we stand together on. It has become too easy to use our disagreements as the reason for our conflict with others. If that is all we do, when will the grass ever have time to grow?

SO IT seems after all the waffle and cut-and-paste repetitions from previous years, the highlight of this year’s State of the Nation address was the establishment of another so-called “advisory council” to clamp down on corruption.

It seems the dozens of similar ones we already have are not enough for the president or they are not doing their jobs properly.

We have the NPA, the SIU, the Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Police Investigative Directorate, the Hawks, the SAPS, the Public Service Commission, the Financial Intelligence Centre and myriad others, the sole task of which is to root out corruption.

It seems that all these are not enough for the president when there is so much evidence already in the public domain of corruption, especially with what has been exposed at the Zondo Commission.

However, instead of putting all those thieves, looters and scoundrels behind bars, and all of them are still walking around free, he establishes another “body” to oversee the implementation of his strategy “to fight corruption”.

All I see is that he increasing bureaucracy and creating more jobs for pals.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

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

Cape Argus

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