A case of unity at the expense of competition?

2012-09-18 06:12

There is a tendency within South African political culture to reject political competition within political parties and unions to uphold the normative ideal of ‘unity’. For instance, during the run up to Mangaung, the ANC seems desperate to paint a picture of uniform political thinking supposedly represented by only one leader. It is quite disturbing and a little hilarious to watch the ANC trying to prevent the public from knowing the battle for power within when members are actively supporting different centres of leadership. Surely, the aims and ambitions of the ANC can be securely met in different ways.

Democratic competition is not only vital between parties but within them as well. This reminds of the simple economic principle of competition between different firms. Within this principle, the most efficient and effective firms survive while the one’s unable to keep up with the demands of the individual are left to perish at the way side. Surely, competition within the party is a vibrant source of options. This is something the unity principle, as practiced by political parties is unable to fathom. Leaders can be united in broad aims but they may diverge on the course upon which these aims are to be met.

This reminds me of the 2008 US election when Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama were jostling for the prize to lead the Democratic Party. The fact that they were debating on the ways to lead the country forward under the broad aims of the Democratic Party did not lead to the destruction of this Party, nor did it compromise what the Democratic Party stands for.

What political parties inn South Africa fail to recognise is that competition within the Party is the next step of democratic maturity. This is a step that needs to be taken to ferment the seeds of our young and fragile democracy. This step needs to be taken to ensure the country does not slide into a retarded democracy at the least, and at its most extreme, a host of authoritarianism.

The major parties in the country must encourage competition and plurality of opinions and leaders within the party to stem out the ineffective seeds as done within the economy. The recognition of plurality cannot but foster greater democracy in the country at large. Unity cannot be used to protect visions of the Party but must make way for a plurality of opinions. If this cannot be done within parties, how can democratic practices, within the country at large, thrive?

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