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I was reading Lelo’ s facebook note about the Jackie Selebi issue this morning, and my response to Lelo’s original post was longer than allowed by a fair margin, but I feel strongly that it needs to be said, so I will post it all here. Lelo’s original post – for those who have avoided the facebook phenomenon like the Amish avoid credit cards – runs along the lines that we have a major democratic crisis on our hands viz-a-viz the handling of the Selebi warrant issue by the president. My response, which follows, is really a comment to the effect that outside a thin group of South Africa’s population, I don’ think anyone has ever given a serious, principled stuff about democracy. It is a crisis, sure – but not one that I think the free people of South Africa will leave their TV’s to protest about any time soon. The comment follows:

I was wondering the other day about democracy in South Africa, and the more I think about it, it is difficult to find real dedication in South Africa to the notion. Our democratic watchdog institutions, with the exception of the Constitutional Court, are extremely rare, bordering on nonexistent or toothless (the constitution provides for almost a dozen different public protection groups – how many can you name?) Yet by and large, people are OK with this. Not only that, but continually vote in ridiculously healthy ANC majorities despite knowing full well that this puts the party largely beyond reproach in their activities.

It was from pondering those particular thoughts that it entered my head that perhaps in South Africa, coming out of Apartheid, the primary motivation of the overwhelming majority wasn’t some ideological pursuit of democracy, but rather the realisation of black rule. The struggle against apartheid was not a struggle to remove ourselves from an undemocratic system, but rather a quest to gain a real say in how 80% of this country was governed. It is an important distinction that we often fail to make, presuming that groups like the ANC are ideologically committed the creation and maintenance of a democratic state, when in fact the reasons for their existence (as a resistance group, for the purposes of realising black power in a government that marginalised and abused them) have nothing whatsoever to do with democracy per se.

It should therefore be unsurprising that (outside of the intellectual classes) all of the shenanigans that are going on have had little effect (no major protests, no anger at the violation of important constutitional and democratic principles, etc). For the simple reason that the ‘masses’ never had an appreciation of democracy or the importance of it, as it was never for the struggling individuals, considered to be a part of what they fought for. So its undermining now is neither noticed nor missed.

I sincerely hope I am wrong, but with each passing day, I feel like the politics in SA are less about some principled commitment to democracy (either on the part of the government or the people) and more about a commitment to ensuring that my racial/economic/etc group has as great a share of power as possible.

it’s almost democracy. But not.