Things fall apart

2008-07-15 00:00

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ...

Never have these lines from William Butler Yeats’s poem The Second Coming seemed more true of the present situation in South Africa. In the past few months the ruling party has seemed intent on tearing itself apart in front of a bemused public. The latest move has been the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) unconstitutional resolution to demand the summary dismissal of two provincial premiers, Nosimo Balindlela of the Eastern Cape and Ebrahim Rasool of the Western Cape. Neither has exactly covered themselves in glory, but their main sin appears to be their support for beleaguered President Thabo Mbeki. One can add to this the chaotic proceedings at the ANC Youth League Conference in Bloemfontein, the extraordinarily bellicose statements of ANCYL president Julius Malema and the revolving door situation at the public broadcaster.

Just as worrying is the overt violence which has accompanied recent African National

Congress (ANC) political activity: the stabbing of ANC Western Cape Secretary, Mcebisi

Swatsha, shootings in the North West Province, knife and fist fights in Limpopo and assaults on ANC office bearers. With such signs of turmoil, one could well be excused for thinking that anarchy has overcome the ruling party.

Some, while publicly repudiating the use of violence but in certain cases covertly encouraging it, have argued that recent developments show the robust nature of South Africa’s nascent democracy. If only this were so. The 19th-century English philosopher, Walter

Bagehot, argued that democracy is the ideal form of government precisely because it allows for slow orderly change arising out of public discourse. The current situation seems to have none of these characteristics. Instead we are presented with a cloak of secrecy which makes many of the developments in the country’s public life seem arbitrary.

A further threat to our democracy is the Teflon coating which seems to shield so many in high office. No amount of sleaze or incompetence seems to bring about the sort of immediate consequences which one would expect in a healthy democracy.

The road we are travelling closely resembles the one which, at the very least, has led to many African countries failing to reach their potential, to states collapsing in a welter of violence and disorder. Those holding the reins of power need to realise that the welfare of a country’s people, not the promotion of individuals or political parties, should be any government’s overriding priority. Furthermore, liberal governance should never be equated with spinelessness but be epitomised by a determined resolve to stand firmly by the principles enunciated in the country’s constitution.

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