View with suspicion

2011-04-27 00:00

TODAY our democracy turned 17. The teenager will soon turn 18. Despite its temperamental teenage ways, South Africa has done pretty damn well for itself. It has achieved far more than your average teen. Every now and then we have a pimply face that we want to cover up, that completely embarrasses us, but overall, we're okay. Having said that, we have to remain vigilant.

Democracy demands that we always view our leaders with suspicion. In order for democracy to thrive, suspicion has always to be present in order to ensure that it remains. We are not distrustful because we do not love our leaders, we are distrustful because we love democracy and freedom more.

The temptation for those who are in power is to view those who view them with suspicion with greater suspicion. There seems to be no sense of "this is for our own good". By questioning we help refocus. We cannot afford to have a situation where we were freer 17 years ago than we are today. That is a case of sliding backwards. Time, like wine, should improve a democracy.

In the words of Nelson Mandela: "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." It is the responsibility of those in power to ensure that those who are not yet free economically and are subjected to other forms of social oppression are freed.

It is a requirement of the citizenry forever to be vigilant. Revolutions are not a sign of a failed state, they are the signs of a failed citizenry. It is a matter of citizens sitting back and thinking: "It is not so bad, the government is doing the things it is doing in order to protect us." In the meantime, one's freedoms are being curtailed daily.

This is what Thomas Jefferson was talking about when he said: "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories." The advent of the Internet has granted each and every single citizen a power and access that were unimaginable before.

Technology will enable us to protect and safeguard freedom more vigilantly than before, as long as we remain fearless in doing so. The Constitution grants us the liberties to express ourselves. To paraphrase the Bible, the Constitution "has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power", and the Internet has given us the ability to exercise the power to express it. Apologies to those who will view this as blasphemy, as some are bound to.

Despite a leader's good intentions, they should always be viewed with suspicion. However, suspicion should not be disrespect. There is a difference. It should be constructive suspicion. This should enable us to propel democracy forward.

Unfortunately our leaders seem hellbent at times on passing laws that make them freer than the common person. The point of democracy and freedom is to ensure that the freedoms of the common person are no fewer than those who wield power. The powerful and those close to the powerful should not be granted greater liberties.

The irony of power is that leaders expect us to trust them without question, and questioning them is viewed as being anti the government. Citizens can be anti the government of the day if they believe that the government is not looking after their interests. They are well within their rights to be. We as the citizenry have to be vigilant in our loyalty to the Constitution.

As our democracy matures, it would be wise of us to heed the words of Jefferson when he said: "Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." We should never take the freedom we have for granted. Never. — News 24.

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