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Brad Cibane
 
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The DA: Kissing Democracy's Behind

17 November 2012, 09:51

A revolution is the epitome of ultimate faith and sacrifice. It means shredding the social contract and setting it on fire for an intangible ideal. An ideal that the people cannot feel or touch, let alone understand; but an ideal they support completely.

This was a plight undertaken by South Africans. South Africans who ripped their hearts out, exposed their bare skins to the unforgiving wrath of bullets; and stood against formidable, gruesome military might, with only a fist and a song. "Amandla" (power) was reference to the power not of the people, but of an ideal. That ideal was freedom through democracy.

But this ideal today hangs on a balance, threatened by the lack of an effectual opposition. The Democratic Alliance is, in my view, one of the biggest threats to South Africa's democracy. Allow me to explain.

People often equate democracy to 'majority rule'. While the effect of the democratic process is that majority assumes the helm of government, the democratic institution goes much farther. Our modern democratic system is premised on open participation of the citizenry (Chps 1, 2 & 3 of the Constitution). Decisions are not always taken through a simple majority, but through a constitutional "democratic process". In a utopian democracy, the choice government would not be between individuals, but between policies (capacity, ability, performance etc). Even when the majority has decided one policy over another, democracy dictates that the minority should be proportionally represented. 

Democracy is sustained through a network of institutions. One fundamental institution is the representation of the minority. In a world where "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely", democracy seeks not to accumulate power, but to dilute it. This dilution is achieved (at least in a proportional representation system like South Africa's), through opposition parties.

While a ruling party stupefied by power threatens the wellbeing of citizens, an ineffective and miseducated opposition menaces the whole democratic institution.

The Democratic Alliance emerged, precisely, from the realization that the ANC's power needed a dilution; although the actual alliance was subsequently dissolved. Indeed in the DA relaunch in 2008, the party sought to transform itself from an opposition party to a broader alternative to the ANC. The party - at least in terms of numbers - has become a real agitation for the ANC. But it has failed to achieve sufficient numbers to prevent a two-thirds majority. The reasons appear below.

The question we should ask ourselves is, who(m) should the DA, as the countries official opposition, represent? The answer that best complements our breed of democracy is: everyone! While the party bears a specific mandate from its constituency, it will only become politically relevant if it cultivates the mandate to suit the interests of South Africans in general.

This appears to be a point missed by the DA completely. While the party continues to position itself as the sole sober table in a room full of drunkards, it has in turn isolated itself from the whole room. Instead of attempting to woo the people, the DA seems to adopt a "bugger them all" approach. This is not to say that the DA's policies are better than those of the ANC, you'd be lucky to find any policies. But the DA could become a home of choice for those who are frustrated with the ANC, thus garner a larger opposition base to the advantage of our democracy.

One suspects that the DA's inability to humble itself to the general population is not due to bad strategy or poor planning, but due to a (white conservative) mindset. Let me illustrate.

Recently the DA took a decision to march to President Jacob Zuma's home in Nkladla. The decision was based on widespread media allegations that hefty amounts have been appropriated from the state purse to upgrade the President's private residence. The DA leader, Mrs Helen Zille, intended to enter the President's home and inspect the property (alas with a mob of people). In her past life, Mrs Zille was a journalist, and thus neither an engineer nor an accountant. How her and her mob's inspection would have resolved the allegations remains a mystery only for the Gods!

But there are elements of the decision that are more perplexing. Firstly, the President's home is private property and, it is not unreasonable to imagine that the President has extended family members that are 'private citizens' who enjoy a constitutional right to privacy (I ignore the President's right to privacy because it is much contested). To insist on entering the property, ignoring all these rights, shows Mrs Zille's total disregard for the same constitution she apparently sought to defend. (‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’)

Secondly, a number of constitutional institutions have already undertaken to investigate the allegations (Public Protector, Director General). These institutions have neither completed their work nor have they pronounced any findings. One therefore questions whether the message by Mrs Zille was that the DA does not trust the Chapter 9 institutions to execute their constitutional tasks effectively, or that she enjoys higher authority to disregard their processes.

More recent, was an exchange between President Jacob Zuma and, the DA's Parliamentary Leader, Ms Lindiwe Mazibuko. Posing a question to the President, Ms Mazibuko opened by saying that the President was "passing the buck to the opposition". She said the opposition did not bear the responsibility to "run South South Africa" because 'they' elected the President to "run the country". These rather careless statements by the opposition's Parliamentary Leader indicate a fundamental 'misunderstanding of democracy', a trait Ms Mazibuko recently decried in the President. 

If Parliament's sole role was to simply elect a President to run the country, to the exclusion of the opposition parties, then there would be NO need for democratic institutions. Government has three separate spheres and Parliament is one of them! Further, leadership of the country vests in every citizen, including, one would hope, Ms Mazibuko!

Therein lays the DA's second pitfalls. The party has reduced itself to a mere referee in an ANC game. While the DA is willing to acknowledge that the ANC must lead, it denies itself this responsibility. It is comfortable as a mere whistleblower and yellow card keeper. 

While the minority (opposition) bears the important task of checking and balancing the democratic scale, it should not reduce itself to mere political competition. The reason being simply, that real people who look to the minority for representation have real issues beyond the DA's grandstanding.

More distasteful for me --and I suspect I am not alone-- was Ms Mazibuko's approach towards the President during their clash. This prompted the President, at one point, to retort to Ms Mazibuko's hackling by saying, "you should respect me... I have respected you." While others may appreciate Ms Mazibuko's temperamental standup to the Big-Man as brave and daring, others (like me) find it unnecessary and distasteful. It makes her appear politically juvenile. 

In the recent US Presidential elections, Mitt Romney discounted 47% of the population before they had the chance to cast their vote. The GOP is faced with the challenge of reforming its conservative stance, which effectively excludes a growing segment of the US population.

The same applies in South Africa. The DA needs reform. The necessary reform will not come from snatching “big (black) fishes” like Nosimo Balindlela. It needs to cultivate an inclusive image appealing not only to a few, but all South Africans. South Africans want to move on; they are ready to surmount blinded patriotism and to vote for a working government. But, the DA has not distinguished itself as the possible alternative.

What about the Western Cape you ask? Well, the DA has done a sterling job in Cape Town. But the rest of the Western Cape is not any different. Cape Town is one of the best cities in the world, with a well-off population. One suspects that Cape Town would survive just as well if it were run by monkeys. 


Brad Cibane, France

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