29 May 2014

South Africa: Op-Ed - Reinvigorating Democracy


When we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our democracy we need to move beyond criticising our experience of parliamentarism - because political self-realisation can be understood in going beyond the periodic election of representatives.

Indeed the treatment of democracy as equivalent to representative democracy is relatively recent, deriving mainly from the American Revolution, where constitution-makers were determined to ensure that politics was confined to the legislative chambers and executive.

Before that democracy was understood as direct rule by citizens. That popular tradition has a place in South African history, notably in the 1980s.

The focus of our Constitution is on representative democracy, which in the context of South African history represented a great advance. But there are reasons for concern. Statistics reveal, given how many potential voters failed to register or cast their vote, that the government we have is in fact a minority government.

Many believe their vote, whether for the ANC or any other party, has little effect on their lives. Parliamentary representatives have not held government to account even where flagrant violations of the Constitution have occurred, including killings, pilfering of public monies meant for the poor and other misdemeanours. Nor have parliamentarians...

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