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Failed Revolution

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 24, 2023 15:01

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South Africa's Red Revolution turned out to be a damp squib. Decisive Government action and overwhelming civic opposition testified that the social Contract still holds. But there are warnings that the rules-based system is under attack, both locally and internationally.

I wrote last week that a minority party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), planned a National Stayaway that would have triggered, so the Commander in Chief believed, a revolution to sweep away all injustices and remove the President of South Africa.

Things did not work that way. Firstly a number of civic groups refused to participate and warned that any public protest that might degenerate into disorder, violence, and looting would not be tolerated. Then the major opposition party obtained court interdicts that, while guaranteeing freedom of expression and the right to protest, warned that any disorder and damage would be illegal and unconstitutional. Then Government weighed in and promised deployment of military and police to face any violence.

In the event, small groups of demonstrators gathered in cities and towns around the country, only sometimes outnumbering journalists covering the demonstrations. Little violence was reported, but in many cases small, informal businesses did close their doors to avoid victimization. While the EFF trumpeted their attempt at emulating Mussolini's march on Rome as a great success, the government claimed that it was a flop. 

It would be dangerous to ignore this challenge. South Africans are disaffected, and tired of the gradual abdication of government from municipal services, security, and essential infrastructure. There are more private security officers than the Police and Defence Force combined. The national power producer is running at less than 50% capacity, and unemployment is around 35%. 

The public's clear rejection, across ethnic and political boundaries, of unconstitutional political expression, should be heeded. Instead President Ramaphosa addressed a National Conference on the Constitution at an upmarket conference center and did acknowledge that many problems still remain. In negotiating the constitution, the same Cyril Ramaphosa toured the country, visiting villages and towns to consult with the ordinary people, but they were not present at the Conference. 

It is clear that the people support the Constitution and the social contract it enshrines, but leadership is absent.

And in a worrying development, the newly appointed Deputy President, Paul Mashatile, emphasized that democracy means majority rule and that Parliament's attempts to hold the executive to account will come to nothing. This is understandable, but polls show that the ruling party may well lose its majority in the 2024 elections. 

In a similar vein the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, seemed to indicate that South Africa would not favor a rules-based international system but rather one based on power and threats. 

It is tempting to draw parallels between the South African stay away and attempts to demonstrate in New York, where the arrest of ex-President Trump was expected. Calls to mass demonstrations in order to influence normal democratic processes seem to have been met, in both cases, by public apathy or lack of support. 

The development of a rules-based political culture, both nationally and internationally, is the result of five hundred years of debate, struggle, and, indeed war and revolution. It is not something to be traded for political expediency. 

 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 24, 2023 15:01

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