There’s no deny­ing that democ­racy is fac­ing a cri­sis of cred­i­bil­ity like never be­fore. Can greater so­cial ac­count­abil­ity make for a stronger prod­uct?

Financial Mail - - PROTECTED SPACE -

Septem­ber 15 is #World­democ­ra­cy­day. This year’s theme, de­ter­mined by the UN, is “Democ­racy Un­der Strain, So­lu­tions for a Chang­ing World”.

I’d be sur­prised if any­body dis­agreed that democ­racy is un­der strain glob­ally, or that ours is un­der more strain than oth­ers right now, de­spite the “new dawn”.

I was re­cently asked whether so­cial ac­count­abil­ity can save democ­racy. There is no ques­tion that democ­racy, as im­ple­mented today, is im­per­fect, yet it’s the best mech­a­nism for reg­u­lat­ing hu­man co­ex­is­tence con­cep­tu­alised to date.

Glob­ally, democ­racy is un­der strain as elec­torates have, oddly, cho­sen ac­count­abil­ity-de­plor­ing despots who prom­ise quick so­lu­tions to com­plex eco­nomic growth.

It doesn’t help when political lead­ers, in­clud­ing some in par­lia­ment, bla­tantly vi­o­late their con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tions by in­cit­ing oth­ers to un­law­fully in­vade the pri­vate prop­erty of oth­ers in the name of re­dress­ing the colo­nial and apartheid le­gacy of racialised poverty.

These cracks in democ­racy are also ap­par­ent in count­less vi­o­lent pub­lic protests, many of which are erod­ing al­ready in­ad­e­quate and age­ing pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture — such as schools and health fa­cil­i­ties.

Para­dox­i­cally, some his­tor­i­cally ad­van­taged groups are equally dis­af­fected. For ex­am­ple, we’ve seen Afrifo­rum call­ing upon US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to come to its res­cue in the face of nonex­is­tent gov­ern­ment land-grab­bing.

Now, we can blame ex­trem­ists and na­tion­al­ists all we want for be­sieg­ing democ­racy, but if we are hon­est, we’ll agree there are core rea­sons for democ­racy’s cri­sis.

For a start, the ob­scene lev­els of so­cial in­jus­tice, char­ac­terised by ex­treme poverty and in­equal­ity along the con­tours of colo­nial and apartheid struc­tures, are strain­ing the be­lief in democ­racy. The hun­gry and an­gry are re­sent­ful. And when gov­er­nance fails, things fall apart. In­creas­ingly, poli­cies are pro­nounced with­out be­ing thought through or with­out con­sul­ta­tion hav­ing taken place.


There’s also a huge in­tegrity deficit in demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, thanks to what researchers call “cor­rup­tion, clien­telism and cap­ture”. Here, democ­racy is per­verted as the will of the bribers, client groups and elites re­places the will of the peo­ple.

This fu­els mis­trust.

The ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this cor­rup­tion then use the re­sent­ment they gen­er­ate to mo­bilise sup­port for them­selves from the very pub­lic they loot, as seen in the

White Monopoly Cap­i­tal cam­paign aimed at de­rail­ing the pub­lic pro­tec­tor’s state-cap­ture in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2016.

So, can so­cial ac­count­abil­ity save democ­racy?

Democ­racy is fac­ing a cri­sis of cred­i­bil­ity as the promised ben­e­fit of greater equal­ity hasn’t hap­pened

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