The upcoming July 22 shutdown must raise our concerns. If anything, it speaks to the stoking of mass action against a democratically elected government, writes Wesley Seale.

It follows the same modus operandi as the regime change agenda that we have seen in the recent past in places such as Venezuela, Brazil, Hong Kong and the so-called Arab Spring. Mass mobilisation of this nature cannot be encouraged in a constitutional democracy.

There is little evidence to suggest that the mass stayaway will be successful. Similar ones have been called in the recent past and have not yielded the necessary numbers and demographics desired by the organisers. Those present at these demonstrations are in the main middle class and White.

The response by those who do not attend is often one that goes: where were you when we were protesting for basic service delivery? Where was this part of the South African populace when students were demanding free higher education? It was often this very segment of society that condemned students and service delivery protestors.

However, the reason why a call for a stayaway and mass mobilisation must not be encouraged is because it is an affront to our democracy.

How has democracy been comprised that the vox populi should be heard in this manner? While we may have a ConCourt judgment indicting the President of the Republic, the ANC, as the largest majority party in our proportional system, continues to enjoy constitutional protection for having their man in the office.

As many have said before: if there is a problem then surely the problem lies with the ANC and the existing democratic institutions, such as the legislature and elections, should be used to unseat the ANC.

The recall of former President Thabo Mbeki is something that should never happen again in this country.

However, the precedent has been set and therefore it would be easy to fall into the trap of always having the ‘recall’ option. While recalling remains the prerogative of the party who deploys the deployee, it does cause instability and a fracturing of government’s response to service delivery, as was seen in the wake of the Mbeki firing.

During the evening days of the Nixon administration and then taken up by the Reagan presidency, Samuel Huntington writes how these administrations effected ‘project democracy’.

The thinking was ideological warfare given that the Cold War was at its height at the time. Countries across the globe were encouraged to adopt neo-liberal democracies and this was accelerated at the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A wave of democracy took place across eastern Europe and no doubt South Africa too was encouraged to adopt a specific type of democracy: liberal democracy.

What the literature from Huntington shows is that missions such as ‘project democracy’ were ordered from the highest echelons of western regimes.

Western regimes during the Cold War and even recently, as we have seen in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, pursue objectives to install governments that are sympathetic to them and governments which promote liberal democracy. In that order.

It is for this reason that scholars such as Huntington would have a very minimalist approach to democracy. For political scholars such as Huntington, all that mattered was free and fair elections.

Therefore, allies such as Saudi Arabia could be kept in place because at least they were holding free and fair elections, despite the limitations of these.

The better parts of the ANC’s Secretary-General’s recent Diagnostic Report, at the ANC’s National Policy Conference, touches on the issue of regime change.

The parts that lack reality is the election results analysis which suggest that the ANC was strongest in 2004, given that year’s election results. Even researchers in the ANC would attribute this result not to the fact that the ANC was strong as much as that the opposition was weak. The ANC simply fared well because the opposition, the DA primarily, had undergone some internal battles.

The Diagnostic Report captures the regime change agenda well though when it says: “The offensive from external forces, with the regime change agenda, is real…The intensity of [the] internal fights makes it impossible for the movement to appreciate the threat to the revolution…Colour revolution, as a mode, escalates protest movement from service delivery to challenging state power or provoking the security forces of the target state…”

The newly formed trade union federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions, condemned the Diagnostic Report suggesting that the ANC was pointing out examples of groups of people or organisations which had a regime change agenda “…without a shred of evidence or any specific examples…”

Saftu went on to indicate that “…the document is implying that all those who are protesting and fighting for the implementation of the ANC’s own policies for ‘radical economic transformation’ or against corruption are just puppets of imaginary external forces who are using them to create ‘instability and conflict’ against the government.” With these words, Saftu dismisses the threat of regime change.

Those of us who have studied the regime change phenomenon, not as a slogan but a reality which changes the lives of countless people across the globe, will know that western governments in particular are quick to hijack, through funding, training and resources, those groups of people or organisations who are known to hold their governments accountable.

Yet western intervention is made in order to change ‘accountability’ to ‘opposing’; and opposing and overthrowing through undemocratic means, if needs be.  Civil society is therefore the easiest target.

While there might not be outright evidence to suggest that these movements and organisations such as #FeesMustFall and Equal Education have a regime change agenda, one must wonder what, if anything, a movement such as #ZumaMustFall and Save South Africa have in mind than regime change through undemocratic means.

Fallists, as noble as their cause has been hitherto, have yet to distance their hashtag from that of #ZumaMustFall and while we are aware that this movement calling for the president to fall has received little support, the support they receive are largely from parliamentary opposition parties.

Civil society has long called for the naming of funders of political parties but very few organisations themselves name who their funders are and if they are named, what they these funders expect in return for their funding.

As we see the world moving into a post-western world, where western hegemony no longer dominates but rather a plurality of forces, it would be important for us, strategically placed in the globe, as South Africa to be cognisant of these changing global forces.

Our alliance with our Brics partners, in the main, must make us realize that we will easily become a soft target for regime change as has taken place in a country such as Brazil.

Wesley Seale lectures Politics at Rhodes University 

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