Max du Preez

Confused about democracy

2009-05-06 12:00

Max du Preez

I am beginning to think I should revise my statement made often in recent months and years, namely that democracy was now indelibly inscribed on the hearts and minds of most South Africans.

If the views of so many of the readers of these columns on are anything to go by, a substantial number of South Africans, perhaps even the majority, believe the concept "democracy" means you hold elections and then the party that gets most votes runs the country like they want to.

Criticism of such a party and the government it has formed, so these people believe, is tantamount to disloyalty to the country and, if coming from anyone else than a black person, racism.

My column in this space about what I would have said to president-to-be Jacob Zuma if he were to call me before his inauguration had more reaction than any other piece I had ever written in any medium over all the years that I've been doing this. (Many even believed I seriously thought Zuma was about to phone me for advice...)

It wasn't because it was a profound piece or even that it was controversial. The reason for the uproar was simply because I dared ask questions of Zuma shortly after 65% of the voters voted for his party. And, sadly, because my skin is pale.


Let me give you a sample of some of the reaction I got. (I'm not making this up - I'm cutting and pasting from the messages sent.)

    "You've got to accept that Blacks now rule this country. Stop being jealous. Zuma might not be a saint but at least he's giving us the freedom that you guys deprived us from during apartheid."

    "The man has suffered enough for the past eight years. Zuma did not kill anyone, he was just involved in a corrupt relationship with Shabir. During apartheid, lots of our black brothers were murdered by white cops and we manage to forgive them. So let's just forgive Zuma."

    "The ANC is ruling and it will be this way for sometime to come. Why don't you and others like yourself accept that Zuma was chosen by the majority who obviously do not appreciate your political views. You and the National Party have over half a century wasted money on apartheid yet it's only now when black people are in power that you start talking about monies being wasted. South Africa is not going back to colonial rule, never...ever."

    "Most black people don't like it when whites criticise the black government as we know that most of them never even raised a voice against apartheid."

    "This is the time that articles of this nature come to an end. Mr Zuma is the president and he must be addressed as such. You must stop these nonsensical insinuations. If you are not happy perhaps migrate to Madagascar."

    "I guess you're one of them pale people who would serve the country better if they left to Australia or something."

    "We all know Zuma was tried and convicted by the media and hence your sickening comments and those of your regular readers. Guys, just admit it, we will rule you into eternity."

Now if these people were reacting to a racist diatribe, one would still understand. But I merely asked Zuma to explain the evidence accepted by a court of law implicating him in corrupt behaviour so we can be sure we don't have a crook as president.

I said I would ask Zuma to apply black economic empowerment and affirmative action more logically and productively and to restore the independence of state institutions compromised by Thabo Mbeki. In a lighter vain I asked him to try on Helen Zille's "war song", Koekie Loekie, and to teach Marthinus van Schalkwyk to dance.

And for that I'm a racist who should "go back to Holland where you came from"? I'm suddenly an apartheid war criminal?

Dangerous notions

Feebly, I suggested to some of these people that they should at least Google me or read some of my books before they pronounce on my past. I can't blame my old enemies in the old National Party, the security police and the clandestine military and police units I helped expose in the 1980s if they had a good laugh at my expense.

The biggest mistake in the thinking reflected above is that a party or an individual should be beyond criticism simply because they were the democratic choice of more than half the voters. (George W Bush was also the choice of most American voters...)

Equally dangerous is the notion repeated by so many that our democracy boils down to the rule of blacks over whites. People should remember the words by Nelson Mandela at his inauguration 15 years ago: Never, never and never again will one group be allowed to dominate another in South Africa.

Democracy in the fullest sense of the word means full freedom of speech and association; the accountability and transparency of government; equality before the law; the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial arms of government; tolerance and protection of minority views and interests; and the nurture of civil society institutions like the media and NGOs.

Let's hope our people have a better understanding of democracy by the time we go to the polls again in 2014, because the opposition parties are bound to grow more and pose an even more serious challenge to the ANC.

I can only imagine the hysteria among the kind of people whom I quoted above if the ANC were ever voted out of power by a party also supported by the minority groups, like Cope or the DA.

Who coined the phrase "Zanu-fication" of the ANC?

Send your comments to Max.

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