‘Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner.’ – Benjamin Franklin
When it comes to the political opinion each of us holds dear, most of us treat it as we do our religious convictions: We are usually too proud, sensitive, or stupid to have someone challenge our presuppositions and help us reformulate them into something more realistic and substantial.
Sorry for the religious reference, but at least t 90% of the christians on News24 just darted for the comments box to condemn me to hell or preach to me. With the children now put to bed and asleep, let us continue this greatly overdue discussion.
To keep you, the reader, from suffering a temporary spell of confusion regarding where I’m coming from in this discussion, I have to add—to the annoyance of those who’ve heard this before—that I am a South African expat living (and working) in Singapore. As such, my mind has been reformed regarding certain principles I once held near and dear.
or those who are contemplating committing patriotic suicide (emigrating), allow me to forewarn you of the first hurdle that awaits you, oh intrepid one. One does not simply fly out of SA, settle down in another country, and continue to trot about the bog of daily life as if nothing had changed. It’s not easy to adapt to a foreign land especially if you move from a third-world western country to a first world eastern one.
What I find most perturbing about my time spent in Singapore is how the ‘Iron-Fist Democracy’ that governs this nation has eroded my almost militant support for western democracy. Believe me, there are big differences between Singapore’s democracy and generic western democracy (as practiced in SA), and I will demonstrate these differences shortly. There are, of course, those who like to mock Singapore’s political system by referring to it as the ‘demagogue’s democracy.’ I admit; off the ear, Singapore may sound a bit oppressive, but let’s take a closer look at what I call the only workable version of democracy.
· Over here, I have NO freedom of speech, whatsoever. I have no right to protest about anything, unless I’d like to become intimately familiar with the bowels of a Singapore prison. If I commit even a mildly serious crime (by South African standards), I may be beaten with the rottang, sent to jail, fined and periodically beaten with the rottang again—depending on how serious the courts deemed my offence.
· The government stipulates a minimum of 14 days annual leave (paltry by SA standards), and overtime pay is NOT something we are legally entitled to (tell Cosato about that one!) As you can see, I know all my worker rights off the top of my head simply because there is nothing to remember. But often a simpler design is a better one in the long run.
· Public transport feels somewhat eerie when one considers the incessant warnings they broadcast. On the trains, I have yet to complete a short trip without hearing the repeated warning from a disembodied Chinese woman’s voice that says, “If you see any suspicious person or article, please, inform our staff or press the emergency communication button located at the side of the train doors.” She then switches to Mandarin and repeats the equivalent message. I occasionally get some strange looks from people when that message is broadcast in the train. I guess I must look a bit off character.
· The media is scrupulously controlled and censored by the government, so there is no true freedom of the press here. Some foreigners jokingly say we are only a few dozen 500-watt speakers mounted on telephone poles away from forcefully being woken up by propaganda broadcasts starting at the crack of dawn—as is the case in North Korea.
· I’m not even allowed to chew gum, and if I they were to discover the contraband on me (it sounds strange to call bubblegum a contraband, doesn’t it?), they will confiscate it, and I may be given a fine. If you are the type who likes to leave your logs for the next man on the toilet shift, the bathroom police may fine you, as well! This reminds me. Singaporeans have this running joke that I hear from time to time. “Singapore is a fine country… you get fined all the time.”
· I’ve also read of cases where the ruling government cracked down on opposition leaders. Some leaders of the opposition were hauled off into court and sued into bankruptcy. Not very democratic, but political stability proved to be a better bet than allowing a bunch of opposition leaders to rub honey around the mouths of the poor (though I promise you what passes for poor here is somewhat unnerving) so they could be voted into power. And everyone knows that once opposition leaders sit in the big seat, all those promises count for nothing, in any case. So why should society suffer this endless game of political musical chairs being played to the tune of democracy?
· Singapore still has military conscription for males over 18, and you are never truly free from the army once you have done your two-year duty after school. At any time, the military can call you in for follow-up courses, up until the age of 55 (if I recall correctly).
· We also have that ‘inhumane’ thing that keeps society safe: the death penalty. If you rape, murder or traffic drugs you will hang! This is a practice I think needs revival. If criminals aren’t afraid of punishment, take them out of the equation entirely! Mercy is a human rights violation if it leads to more people being harmed by the socially unfit and psychologically disturbed.
The everyday South African would look at me and say that I have suffered a tremendous injustice—the stuff of revolutions (or revelations). Let me assure those of you who may feel an inkling of sympathy for me; I have never lived so happily, successfully, or safely as I have since having moved to Singapore. While our ‘Iron-Fist Democracy’ may not look very desirable or benign on paper, in practice and observable results it makes western democracy look like something that was thought up by people who never left the trees.
I take my hat off to the PAP (People’s Action Party) that has led Singapore since its independence, 47 years ago. If ever there is a man that was deserving of Mandela’s messiah like adoration and fame, it is Singapore’s former leader, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. His foresight and ‘get real’ attitude made Singapore politically stable and forced its populous to take up skills and a relentless work ethic. On this stable, merit-based foundation, Singapore became the most successful nation in the history of humankind. Not even Genghis Khan, who built his empire by stealing from developed nations, could amass wealth as quickly as Singapore did post 1965 (they year of its independence). And Singapore has nothing in the way of wealth in the soil—unlike that the Emirates (think Dubai) whose wealth and advancement literally spew forth from their soil in the form of oil.
On national day here (9 August), I am awed to see our army do drills and fly Chinook choppers around with enormous Singapore flags waving underneath them. The atmosphere in the street is one of goodwill and camaraderie. Everyone wears red T-shits and hang their nation’s flag outside their windows. Not even Blue Bulls fans are this proud to be, and no sporting event in South Africa (I was still there during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, mind you) can hope compare. I have now seen and felt what it is like to live in a population whose hearts beats as one… irrespective of race, creed, religion, or social class. And how refreshing and exhilarating and experience this continues to be for me!
Of course, Singapore had more in store for this border jumper. I found—to my utter shock—that Singaporeans actually embrace their colonial past. The tall, immaculately kept statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles stands majestically in Clark Quay. On the plaque is reverently written, “On this historic site, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 28th January 1819, and with genius and perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.” Try to get the ANC to write that on any colonial leader’s statue.
Singaporeans still show respect for their colonial past by keeping the English language in circulation (and they are pretty good at it). They also still drink tea at noon and kept almost all the colonial buildings from their past. And as soutie, I can promise you they make a good cuppa! Singapore is also very western in a lot of ways—so much so that I really feel as if I didn’t move out of the west at all, just to its borders.
Living in a Conservative Society
I don’t like conservatism. I don’t like the word, and I don’t like what it conjures up when I contemplate its meaning. I also deeply detest those who have represented the movement (especially in America). The majority of them are bible-wielding wackos who just want to put an end to the ongoing puritan nightmare. And we all know what the puritans fear most: that somewhere, somehow somebody is happy.
And Singaporeans let you know from the moment you set foot here is that they consider themselves a conservative people. They aren’t joking about it either. If you want to see how conservative a nation is, look at how it treats homosexuals. In Singapore, homosexuals may not marry their partner and enjoy your share of rights and benefits that come with a legally recognised union. Marriage is a big deal here because it enables you to buy an HDB or DBSS apartment for cheap (the government subsidises R190, 000 of your purchase). So, you can imagine the gay and lesbian communities are losing out, BIG TIME, by not being able to legally get married.
But strangely, I find it liberating to live in a conservative society (especially one with harsh punishment for serious crimes). I now ponder if the conservatives weren’t onto something, after all.
And at the same time I find myself questioning the efficacy of western democracy and the integrity of the ‘liberties’ that we force on the rest of the world. America, the world’s most promiscuous democratic whore, has been shoving the western version of democracy down the throats of every single nation with oil under its soil. In true dictatorial style, the shadow government in the USA ass-ended the Bush-Al Gore election and substituted a tree-hugging hippy with a shotgun-wielding redneck who almost gave us world war 3!
I still recall being somewhat impressed with this behaviour of force-feeding other nations our oily, deep fried democracy because it was supposed to uplift them; even if they never considered themselves oppressed. Yet America is oppressing its own people and stripping them of their liberties so fast that soon they may have North Korean style curfews in place and a total police state where everyone is a suspect.
What Democracy Was Supposed to Be
The Greeks originally invented democracy, and they did so because they were a society of philosophers. They were intelligent people and understood that only once you had slaves tending to everyday chores—thereby freeing the average citizen from a life wasted just trying to feed themselves—would they be free to become philosophers, intellectuals, artists, and historians (you know? Intellectuals!) The ancient Greeks would have public debates on all sorts of political and socio-economic matters, all day long. The MP’s in parliament were elected fortnightly from the public spheres so nobody could accrue power and play political games. The best part about ancient Greece was that the general man on the street was wise enough to actually be fit for a place in the parliament—a trait sorely lacking in our modern civilization that is supposedly built on knowledge.
We all know South Africa has one of the hardest won and most liberal democracies IN THE WORLD. We have constitutional rights and freedoms that are far beyond what even Americans have. And if you look at the socio-economic landscape, you soon realise that South African whites became the philosophers because South African blacks did (and continue to do) all the dirty work.
How Democracy Was Bastardised
To those fierce liberal democrats out there (my former ilk) I have this to say: Let us stop the self-praise and pull our heads out of our @$$3$ sufficiently long enough to draw a lungful of much needed fresh air! For that fresh air may do us more good than we would like to believe it could. Let us now gaze upon western democracy and expound on why it has failed us in our modern world.
Western democracy DOES NOT WORK, solely because of those who live on the hump of the bell curve. Jane Idiot and Joe Moron are incapable of being trusted to think. That’s because they have next to no practical experience with this verb! All they do is cling to their presuppositions and react on instinct when challenged to think. And this is perhaps the one thing that I can finally appreciate about all dictators, past and present: They never trusted the man or woman in the street to do the smart thing. They know, to this day, that in politics, all that is required to unsettle the balance of power and distort the facts is a well-placed series of lies. Lies told by people who don’t have the numbers in front of them and who claim to be ‘for the people.’
When you’re a senator from a redneck state, you know nothing about how much money the government actually has at its disposal. You can go and tell people across the land that you will divert billions of Dollars into the education system; you will fix and upgrade all national highways; you will feed the poor, shelter the homeless; fuck… on and on the promises go.
I purposefully did not use South Africa and a politician there as an example for this failure of democracy, simply because it would be too easy to elicit support for my argument, that way. I don’t like or need knee-jerk support from someone people who just like to hear a certain racial group declared inept and lethargic.
But perhaps America is also an example that falls short of the mark I wanted to make. After all, America does not even have true democracy; it has a bipartisan system. There you either choose to vote for a bible-wielding Republican, or a double-talking Democrat. And neither group’s leaders have any hope of being elected unless they publically proclaim to have found… JEUUUZZZUUUSSS! America, it seems, is going through the dark ages all over again.
The Mark of Western Democracy
When do our northern neigbours in Africa have the biggest and most violent episodes of civil and political unrest? You guessed it… when they finally give ‘Democracy’ a chance! Nothing brings on civil war, threats of genocide, and political terrorism as quickly as a democratic election being staged in Africa!
In my humble opinion, for South Africa to avoid becoming another African tale, it needs to take a knife to both its constitution and democracy. We need a one party government to ensure political stability, because whenever the ANC feels threatened they play the race/apartheid card, which incenses certain people into blind rage. Only if you can placate the ANC will you get rid of the Malemas and the other fanatics who are yet to come out of the informal settlements.
As one of my heroes, George Galloway, British MP, likes to say—and I quote him from memory—“no amount of fly swats will protect you if you live next to a swamp.” He adds, “Only by draining that swamp of hatred will you get rid of the plague of violence and anger directed towards you.”
Metaphorically speaking, the flies are the criminals who take, and the swamp is the injustice caused by a society that was and continues to be fractured by democracy! And don’t for a second think I am advocating we go back to where we came from: that religious extremist regime known as apartheid, but we definitely can’t hope democracy will save us anymore! Nor can we rely on liberty and freedom to uplift everyone in our society. You can be free and liberated, yet stupid and uneducated, after all, and that is where you become a puppet of your own democratic freedom.
To close, I’d like to give some perspective to what I’ve said, because I said a lot. Thanks to the doctrine of democracy and its offshoot mutation, liberty, South Africa is now the land of paradoxes. If you don’t believe me, tell me which of these statements are not applicable to South Africa, today:
In South Africa, our future is our past.
In South Africa, change means being constant.
In South Africa, we hope for peace but talk of war.
In South Africa, some talk of wars to avoid doing their chores
In South Africa, cops and robbers are often indistinguishable.
In South Africa, your freedom of speech can be used to silence you.
In South Africa, the word ‘progress’ is a synonym to the word ‘regress’.
In South Africa, crime statistics go down while rapes and murders go up.
In South Africa, you can legally own land and be accused of illegally occupying it.
In South Africa, you are declared more educated the less education you receive.
In South Africa, those who strive to be revolutionary turn out to be reactionary.
In South Africa, you can be imprisoned by your freedom and discriminated against by your rights.
In South Africa, our free and fair society feels awfully regulated and biased (as any of the STILL (and NEWLY) disadvantaged).