Democracy should be about achieving equality,promoting the welfare of the people and building a thriving society

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The dialogue that is introduced when one speaks about democracy is always extensive and subject to many mixed emotions. It is a topic that favours the ideas of freedom and criticises the norm that was prevalent in South African society, prior to 1994.

South Africa has experienced pain from many angles. Be it the financial strain, corruption, political unrest and racism.

It is difficult to introduce the topic without having a strong opinion on the change we have seen since democracy was introduced into the South African vocabulary. Some of these changes are not given any recognition because they are not evident in most facets of life, but they are changes nonetheless.

The country’s citizens were given a second breath to try to recover from the past. For the first time in history, people of colour were allowed to have a say in terms of how their lives progressed forward. Everyone was now seen as a human being and not as a tool to aid the prosperity of those who were privileged enough to exert power over the underprivileged.

Democracy ensured that power was given to the person or party that the majority actively voted for and elected as their leader. Although this idea looked good on paper, South Africa continues to see the legacy left behind by an indoctrinated belief. South Africa is still in crisis.

Lukhona Mnguni made a bold statement, which the eNCA featured on their online page, saying that, “South Africa is not a vibrant democracy”.

Mnguni elaborates further and maintains that a vibrant democracy is one wherein all the pillars of its existence are functioning optimally. He refers to our democracy as a theatrical politico-legal tango that does not embody the functioning of a vibrant democracy.

Democracy should be about achieving equality, promoting the welfare of the people and building a thriving society. And, furthermore, it should follow the adage that democracy is a “government for the people, of the people and by the people”.

Many believe that, should an inconsistency in leadership be detected and a leader is shown to be corrupt and of selfish motives, there should not be a need to wait for the next round of elections to punish and hold accountable those who violate the social construct because this undermines the responsibility to adhere to the will of the people. South Africa seems to fail in this regard. We have seen votes of no confidence against the President and there have been many attempts to prove that he is supposed to step down, but loyalty to the party and many other factors that have been put to questioning have helped sustain his term.

South African democracy has almost forgotten the initial reason why freedom was introduced and because of this stain in their memory, millions of people are becoming casualties to the unfair system and, in turn, those who have never been on the wagon of struggle continue to enjoy the lifestyles that they were afforded before 1994.

However, a dialogue has two voices, and the other voice is that of Tuleka Mpotulo, a corporate strategist at The South African National Energy Development Institute who believes that Democracy opened up opportunities that were not always available to people of colour—it did not hand them out on a plate and people got confused when they weren’t utilising these opportunities soon after 1994. People thought democracy was a free-for-all and that there was no need to look for opportunities. Tuleka believes that we are our own enemies because we feel there should be a shortcut to the life we feel we are promised by democracy.

Another view that Tuleka holds is that the only impact we can have on the current atmosphere in South Africa is one which is brought on by us chaining together and working in numbers to improve the society.

“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” - Steve Biko

This powerful statement applies very well to the introduction of democracy. The oppressor saw a need to calm the majority of the country down by introducing a system that was dressed as a way of reform but in all honesty, it was another way of gaining the nation’s voice and vote. Indirectly, the oppressed are still subjected to unfair systems that the government has put in place in attempts to maintain “social order”.

Walter Bagehot gave democracy a more intricate definition: "Each man is to have one twelve-millionth share in electing a Parliament; the rich and the wise are not to have, by explicit law, more votes than the poor and stupid; nor are any latent contrivances to give them an influence equivalent to more votes."

A big downside of democracy is that power is put in the hands of people who are not fully capable of leading a nation. Power is attained by people who are self-serving.

There is still a limit as to what the majority can decide when it comes to the structure of the government and who is in charge of handling certain affairs. They have the power to vote and elect a government, they also have the power to remove it and they have the ability to approve or disapprove its performance. But they cannot administer the government. They cannot themselves perform and they cannot normally initiate and propose the necessary legislation. A mass cannot govern because in most cases where a mass opinion dominates the government, there is confusion and chaos when it comes to the true exercise of the functions of power.

As a person born after 1994 and who has been dubbed as a ‘born-free’, my freedom feels limited and contextual. While the legal system that came with democracy prevents us from being harmed physically, the harm emotionally and financially is still prevalent. The exclusion from the life that we require as the youth is still a major factor. This is a statement that is true for almost all people of colour. We are given the freedom to roam around freely, but the fight is still fresh and the fight is still in favour of the privileged.

The youth is now aware of the fact that sometimes, we cannot rely on the government to respond positively towards our plights. Their reaction towards the youth’s struggle has been undesirable in most cases.

The biggest challenge for South African democracy is the desire to emulate the governments of other nations. The desire to adopt systems that will not work as well with local citizens as they do for foreign countries is crippling South African society.

The most painful part about the absence of morality in those who are in power and those we look to for guidance is that, should we confront it, our voices become useless. Our cries are silenced.

But room for further change and improvement in the system is not impossible. The exercise of humanity can ensure that our democracy sees authenticity and that our democracy is recognised as a tool that is meant to protect the well-being of its people.

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This edition

Issue 68