This year’s election is marking 20 years of democracy for our country. This is a milestone in an environment and a continent defined by instability, coups and concerted efforts to undermine democracy. The atmosphere towards these elections should be marked with great celebration as we have managed to sustain democracy despite all the challenges we have. Democracy as a concept is subject to debate as it is perceived and defined differently by many people. The question is; what is democracy? Does routine elections define this concept? Free and fair elections as we have experienced since 1994 is the hallmark of democracy, but not the whole picture of what democracy is. Democracy is built upon many layers of theories and principles. However, central to the concept is “competition”. In one of their journals, the University of Chicago defines a perfect political democracy as; “an institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals endeavor to acquire political office through perfectly free competition for the votes of a broadly based electorate.” One ought to understand and define politics within the contested spheres of limited resources and thus the political power and control over those resources. The definition used by the Chicago University deals both with the environment and the dynamics of the competition itself. Therefore, from the South African perspective one will have to agree that the environment is conducive for a healthy competition. Our constitution not only guarantees but protects people’s rights to; association, political freedom and freedom of a choice. Then our electoral act guarantees that our elections are free and fair through strong legal stipulations and framework.
Looking at how democracy was curtailed and subverted in many countries we can ask ourselves this question; is democracy indeed under threat in South Africa? The answer is categorically, no. South Africans are still enjoying the fruit of democracy. We are still enjoying media freedom irrespective of how negative the media houses have been on the ANC and the ANC led government. In some countries this could have led to the change in constitution and a serious crack down on the media. That has not happened. We have seen civil societies going toe to toe with the government on issues they feel strongly about. But there has never been a time where the ANC or the ANC led government tried to subvert the rights of the civil society movement. We have seen countless times, the courts of law ruling against the government. Yes, there has been shouts here and there calling the courts anti-revolutionary, but that has never been a resolution of any of the ANC conference. The ANC has not flirted nor tempered with the constitution to subvert the principles of democracy. Yes, we can talk about the unfortunate incidents of Meqheleng, Marikana and other places, but we cannot accuse the ANC for the incompetency of the police. Therefore, the talks of democracy under threat are misplaced and electioneering noises rather than the truth. Throughout our 20 years history of democracy, there is no iota of evidence to show that the ANC tried to influence the environment outside the parameters and provisions of democracy and the constitution.
The second element with the definition is the dynamics of the competitions itself. Within the democratic system, competition is a reflection of political parties’ ability to rally the masses around the issues they feel strongly about. It is actually funny how people are talking about the ANC hegemony and its effect on democracy. Hegemony in a politics system can be legitimately or illegitimately gained. In an undemocratic environment it is gained through banning the opposition or changing the electoral system. In 1994, as a country we adopted the current electoral system which is based on party-list proportional representation. It was adopted to help opposition who in any normal circumstances would not even have made it to the ballot paper. Despite all the efforts that were made to level the playing fields, opposition parties have failed to assert their presence in South African politics. If there is anybody to be blamed for the mutation of democracy, it is the opposition parties. Since the advent of democracy we have seen not only the mushrooming of political parties but the death of the traditional opposition parties. We cannot blame the ANC for this death. Any success or failure of a political party is based on their ideological inclination and their ability to sell their policies to the masses. The issue of ideology only does not sell, but sound policies have the ability to draw the masses to you. The question is; have our opposition been able to develop policies that are superior to those of the ANC? The answer is no! What the opposition have been able to make is an intellectually sounding noise which has and is failing to draw the people to them. Opposition parties either don’t know how to play politics or they misunderstand their roles in a politics system. Opposition politics have scored many own goals and that have rendered them a laughing stock among the electorates.
It is therefore, disingenuous to blame the ANC for what opposition is calling “the death of democracy” or “an attack on democracy.” Opposition have failed to capitalize on the environment created and protected by the constitution to build a strong force which can compete within our political system. Secondly, opposition have failed to understand, define nor articulate their role within this competitive environment. They therefore, cannot blame the ANC when it uses the majority they have legitimately gained. It is safe to say that under the ANC led government democracy is safe. Celebrating 20 years of democracy is not a farce but the reality of a good story and a success by the African country. Among the good stories that we should be telling, it is the story of a thriving democracy.