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Political Progress or Return To The Past?

Coen van Wyk

Posted on March 10, 2019 13:53

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When does the right to lead trump the right to choose? This millennia-old argument is at the root of upcoming elections in South Africa, and probably also elsewhere. Political debate has all but ceased, becoming, instead of a search for truth and the correct way to go about life, a shouting match between competing tribes.

As South Africans brace themselves for general elections in May a number of Commissions and Enquiries keep stunning the public. Like the Sun King claiming that ‘L’etat, c’est moi.’ ‘I am the state’ ex-President Zuma seems to have treated the state as his personal property, allowing cronies to run state-owned enterprises as personal fiefs. Loyalty to him, and the party, it was claimed, should trump loyalty to the country.

   

It has been argued, especially in the rural heartland of the ruling party, that a leader has the right to use state assets as if it was his own, including refurbishing his luxurious mansion at taxpayer’s expense.

Reports of how ex-President Zuma has hollowed out the Security Services and justice apparatus to serve his own political agenda and how looting of the national electricity supplier and other state-owned entities was looted to the point of bankruptcy, are among a few revelations coming out of the governance system. Whether these revelations indicate a change in the course of the ruling party, or a shaking out of the old to make way for the new remains to be seen.

On the other hand opponents argues that South Africa is a republic, that the electorate has a right to question, and that questioning the leadership is an expression of loyalty to the constitution and the country.

The democratic tradition has returned to a principle that dates back to before Christ: that the ultimate sovereign is the individual, and that these are surrendered to the governing entity through some form of social contract.

In the South African context political discourse is often binary: any challenge to the ruling narrative, whether it is challenging prosecutors for declining to bring corrupt politicians to court, or for proposing administrative transparency, is met by accusations of racism, and even of having worked for the Apartheid police. 

Then leader of the ANC Youth League, fond user of political defence... October 2010

A more nuanced discourse is needed. The modern democratic tradition, based on science, facts and reasoned analysis was thought to have replaced the old. Sharia, custom and tradition still animates some political elements.
 
Yet when I read the comments on politicians suggesting that Brexit, or blind allegiance to some religion or another be followed, I realise that the age of reason is being rolled back. Facts no longer matter, emotion, labelling, denigration and vituperation is all. Perhaps it is the nature of the Internet, but political debate by insult is not sustainable. We are being dragged back to a time of Kings, of Tzars, of Duce’s, of Führers, where customary sentiments count for more than reason, laws and evidence. 

Coen van Wyk

Posted on March 10, 2019 13:53

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Source: Reuters

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