Political public in SA intolerant

2015-05-20 06:00
Dr Sethulego Matebesi, Social Commentator.


Dr Sethulego Matebesi, Social Commentator. Foto:

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SOUTH AFRICA has always remained a resilient nation in the face of adversity over the past two decades.

It is not a cliché to suggest that South African citizens today are the beneficiaries of a participatory governance system which has been the envy of many countries on the African continent.

However, it has long also been thought paradoxical that post-apartheid South Africa, which is celebrated for its liberal traditions, should have witnessed an increasing adoption of mechanisms of bureaucratic expansions and the absolute exercise of political power.

Any effort to better understand and appreciate both the complexities and the undisputable nature of political power will reveal that democracy has unintentionally created a democratic social order in which certain attitudes are deeply ingrained and certain ideals are widely shared.

There is, of course, truth to the claim that the democratic dispensation in South Africa has created a politically engaged public which is intolerant to opponents. This situation is further perpetuated by the newly created elitists who have positioned themselves as purveyors of a specific set of moral values.

It is therefore perfectly understandable, if not indeed inevitable, that mainstream political debates either trigger outrage or retaliatory threats from the politically engaged public based on their political affiliation. This tendency has imbued a siege mentality in South African citizens.

This siege was witnessed most tellingly recently in the forceful removal from parliament of parliamentarians, the conti-nued vitriolic attacks on the Public Protector, infighting at intraparty elective conferences, demolishing of statues, xenophobic attacks and violent community protests including the ill-fated tactic of using school learners as bargaining tools.

Interestingly, public service employees – the most valuable resource of government – have also become victims of the intolerant culture aimed at serving the interests of those who benefit and prosper in the prevailing social and political order.

All these not only serve as a stark reminder of the troubled history of the country, but also sensitize us about the looming threats to democracy.

I thus contend that each time we turn a blind eye to rampant corruption, alarming crime levels, public violence, racism, lack of transformation at tertiary institutions and gross human rights violations, it constitutes complicity.

In fact, our collective silence has created an increasingly exclusionary, intolerant environment that is conducive to aggression, intimidation and violence. This should be considered highly problematic and not to be encouraged in any society that values its internal democratic processes.

The lesson we have learnt in the African context is a simple one: Never place too much power and functions in the hands of any one person or office-bearer. The effect is never positive for the longterm institutional health of any democratic society.

The next few decades yearns for a South African citizen and politically-engaged public that has a particular interest in and responsibility to respect, protect and promote the universal rights of fellow human beings and guard against looking too inwardly when dealing with fundamental political issues. This, I believe, will enhance the resilience of our nation.

) Dr Sethulego Matebesi is a senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of the Free State (UFS).

) Express readers are encouraged to contribute to this column by sending their piece (of about 500 words) on any topic to Jabulani.Dlamini@volksblad.com

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