Keep de­fend­ing democ­racy

Civil so­ci­ety has fought against the worst of the breaches — se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion, cor­rup­tion, se­crecy

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Ju­dith Fe­bru­ary

It has be­come in­creas­ingly clear that the ANC, even with a new lead­er­ship, will not be able to “fix” our so­ci­ety and nor should we ex­pect it to. If po­lit­i­cal par­ties are too caught up in their own power plays to map a way for­ward for our coun­try and give mean­ing to the vi­sion of our Con­sti­tu­tion, then cit­i­zens must do it, even in the con­text of our di­vided, com­plex so­ci­ety.

It will take a mam­moth col­lec­tive ef­fort from busi­ness, civil so­ci­ety and cit­i­zens to rise up and speak out against the in­ac­tion fu­elled by those who would con­sign our coun­try to the dust­bin of cor­rupt pol­i­tics. Former United States pres­i­dent Barack Obama once said: “If you’re dis­ap­pointed by your elected of­fi­cials, grab a clip­board, get some sig­na­tures and run for of­fice your­self. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”

Stay at it. A marathon, not a sprint. There is a pos­i­tive re­silience that has been grow­ing at the heart of our so­ci­ety in the past few years, as a re­sponse ei­ther to our cur­rent con­di­tion or to former pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s bla­tant cor­rup­tion. There are what I call “green shoots” out there, ini­tia­tives aimed at greater gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity, and we should be sup­port­ing them.

Cit­i­zen ac­tivism has been an im­por­tant, prob­a­bly de­ci­sive, de­fender of South Africa’s democ­racy and con­sti­tu­tional or­der. This has been seen in the protests against se­crecy, against the ve­nal use of apartheid-era leg­is­la­tion such as the Na­tional Key Points Act, in push­ing for trans­parency on mat­ters such as party fund­ing, in protest­ing against state cap­ture — and in thou­sands of smaller, typ­i­cally un­recorded as­ser­tions of the right of cit­i­zens to be taken se­ri­ously when faced with of­fi­cial ar­ro­gance, dis­hon­esty or in­dif­fer­ence.

Of course, civil so­ci­ety em­braces a wide va­ri­ety of ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tives, not all com­pat­i­ble with one an­other. That ac­tivists and ac­tivist groups may dis­agree with one an­other is not es­pe­cially im­por­tant. The willing­ness to de­bate ideas and to con­test abuses en­sures that any in­tru­sion into the free­doms and con­sti­tu­tional en­ti­tle­ments of South Africa’s peo­ple will al­ways meet re­sis­tance.

Emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor and politi­cian Fred­erik van Zyl Slab­bert once wrote: “Even if it is so that some in­tel­lects in gov­ern­ment crave for a ‘Gram­s­cian hege­mony’ over the masses, they haven’t got a snow­ball’s hope in hell. The scope and di­ver­sity of civic ac­tion sim­ply de­fies such hege­mony. Vol­un­tary as­so­ci­a­tions in the ar­eas of lit­er­acy, health, skills de­vel­op­ment, busi­ness man­age­ment, or­phan care, com­bat­ing Aids, per­form mag­nif­i­cently. I have met and ob­served many of them. Of course, gov­ern­ment can play an im­por­tant en­abling role, but if it does not do so, it will sim­ply be re­garded as ir­rel­e­vant. There is bound­less ar­ro­gance in the no­tion that you have the right to tell or­di­nary com­mon-sense folk how and what to think.”

It has been strong, open me­dia and ro­bust civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions that have stood be­tween us and the most egre­gious breaches of our Con­sti­tu­tion.

The civil so­ci­ety groups are too nu­mer­ous to men­tion but I think of the Right2Know cam­paign and its dogged pur­suit to pre­vent the se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion of the state; Black Sash, which has fought a valiant cam­paign against cor­rup­tion in the South African So­cial Se­cu­rity Agency; and Sec­tion27, which con­tin­ues to fight for the rights of the vul­ner­a­ble.

We can take deep com­fort in this. Given the chal­lenges of the present, where ex­actly should our fo­cus lie in build­ing a post-Zuma democ­racy? A democ­racy in which we en­able cit­i­zens “to build pop­u­lar, ac­count­able and sus­tain­able self-gov­ern­ment” and “en­joy equal­ity with each other in gover­nance pro­cesses”, as the def­i­ni­tion of a func­tional democ­racy by the now de­funct In­sti­tute for a Demo­cratic South Africa re­quires?

Our so­ci­ety, now more than ever, is in need of crit­i­cal voices on ev­ery front as it con­tin­ues the bat­tle to find its soul. We will need crit­i­cal voices if we are to par­tic­i­pate in de­bates about a “post-Zuma world” and the kind of lead­er­ship South Africa needs.

How do we forge a so­ci­ety in which we can talk hon­estly about race, class and other fault lines? How does so­ci­ety raise up lead­ers among us, ca­pa­ble of what writer Njab­ulo Nde­bele once called “coun­ter­in­tu­itive lead­er­ship”?

This takes us be­yond the ANC and Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa and any other po­lit­i­cal party. It is reimag­in­ing quite a dif­fer­ent South Africa.

Our so­ci­ety, now more than ever, is in need of crit­i­cal voices on ev­ery front as it con­tin­ues the bat­tle to find its soul

Cit­i­zen he­roes: Mem­bers of the Right2Know cam­paign and the So­cial Jus­tice Coali­tion cel­e­brate a small vic­tory out­side Par­lia­ment with a can­dle­light vigil. Photo: David Har­ri­son

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.