The critical importance of upholding our democracy

Published Jul 3, 2024


The preservation of a healthy constitutional democracy in South Africa in the coming decades hinges critically on whether we heed a golden rule of the free form of government as taught throughout the ages by democracy experts like Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Livy, Edward Gibbon, Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Lincoln and, especially, the framers of our Constitution.

The golden rule is that demagogues destroy democracies. In their writings and speeches, the incisive political philosophers teach us that demagogues, especially those serving as heads of state, are to the body politic of democracy what cancer is to the human body. If the cancer is not kept out or removed, it eviscerates critical organs and eventually kills the democracy.

The well-publicised letter to the ANC by the EFF secretary general, under the guise of “black unity”, is a grave threat veiled in a dangerous appeal. Any proposal rooted in racial considerations or hate is short-sighted and must be rejected.

This moment in our history calls for political maturity, prioritising the people over personal agendas and avoiding grandstanding.

Experience and reality tell us that our so-called “organisations historically associated with the liberation movement” have devolved into personal fiefdoms, consistently failing to prioritise the people or the country.

They have not effectively addressed the escalating hunger crisis over the past decade. It was Zuma-aided state capture that resulted in widespread distrust in the body politic, rendering the situation of this great country weak, inefficient and disgraceful.

Similarly, the influence of political “slay queens” has also had a detrimental impact, as evidenced by the VBS scandal, which affected the savings of many elderly individuals in Limpopo.

South Africa’s greatest fear before the elections of May 2024 was that unethical, self-serving politicians, even if fairly elected to public office, would tear down the public purse and our constitutional laws for the sake of their own advancement and self-aggrandisement.

For us, like the other founders, the word “demagogue” is not deployed as an insult to shoot down one’s political opponents. Instead, it is a forensic term that describes a well-known class of politicians who demand power through emotional appeals to prejudice, distrust, fear and vilification.

Then, once in office, demagogues, who are compulsively driven to hold power at all costs, run roughshod over everything democracies hold dear: constitutions, courts, the rule of law, truth-telling and, not least, free and fair elections followed by the peaceful transfer of power.

If the so-called organisations that have a “liberation movement history” were to come together, as suggested by the EFF, it could spell disaster and dictatorship.

Their moral standing is questionable, as is their loyalty to the people they claim to represent and from whom they emotionally beg sympathy.

The parties in reference only reflect fascist demagoguery at best and dictatorial tendencies driven by fear of missing out (Fomo). It’s a farce that we must not fall for.

Let us recognise the complex dynamics at play and demand true leadership that prioritises the nation's well-being and democratic principles over personal gain.

Chris Maxon is a member of Rise Mzansi in KwaZulu-Natal