Our ‘crackpot’ democracy

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South Africa - Durban - 30 March 2019 - PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa was campaigning in Durban yesterday, accompanied by ANC provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala, party national executive committee member Nocawe Mafu and former eThekwini Municipality mayor James Nxumalo. Picture Leon Lestrade:African News Agency(ANA)

South Africa is a classic case of a ‘crackpot’ democracy. It is not a normal one. In a normal democracy government subscribes to at least three fundamental  principles: first, opportunity be made equal to all citizens; second, that merit be the only guiding principle of appointment; and third, that no public servant or applicant for public sector position should suffer for their political beliefs.

These principles first emerged in the USA with the Pendleton Act of 1883. Not that the US is a standard bearer. Far from it. After all the US and SA are common in at least one respect: they elected buffoons as president  in Donald Trump and Jacob Zuma respectively. But these principles do exist in the US. 

In SA neither the principles nor the practice exist. How could they exist  when  “cadre deployment ” ideology rules the roost? Moreover our post-apartheid regime is not much dissimilar to the apartheid regime. Both the apartheid regime and it’s successor subscribe to the delusional affirmative action programme regardless of the contorted rationale behind each. 

Both these discriminatory practices are not  part of the regimes of  equal opportunity and the merit system. They are veritable arsenals of a ‘crackpot’ democracy. But while under apartheid  delusions were congenital regardless of its obeisance to the Ten Commandments, the white minority regime was not anchored in a constitutional democracy. The black majority rule on the other hand subscribes to both the spirit of the Ten Commandments and the Penal Code. Constitutional democracy is its back-rock, but venality and maladroitness in public administration remain triumphant. 

Yet as the regime of Jacob Zuma demonstrated: mismanagement and misgovernance were always for personal, political and pecuniary reasons. As a symbol  the ANC is the greatest representative of corrupt wealth. They have largely been corrupted by the disease of untrammeled majoritarianism.The response to this charge is a simple refuge-seeking in mere negation and that there are no evils to be corrected  from their side because they operate as a collective. 

As if they have never heard of the Bosasa and Gupta pestilence, which led to social gangrene. They make promises before the elections and excuses afterwards. If the merit system ever prevailed in SA how could President Jacob Zuma ever have managed to populate his cabinet and sub-cabinet positions with so many  dumb-bells ? One  prominent mediocrity   was appointed  to cabinet only after publicly announcing his readiness to walk the streets of Joburg starknaked in defence of Zuma’s dignity!

Some woman cabinet minister would even threaten to defend the corrupt Zuma with her buttocks! But she never explained how she was going to do that. If the meritorious were in charge how could they  ever have permitted the looting of the public purse  to take place  on such  a grand scale? With these competent overseers manning the ramparts, how could dodgy  characters have ascended to top positions in government departments and state owned entities and municipalities?

Look at the salary scandals of the head honchos in state owned agencies. Look at the millions of Rand each rakes up annually! Some receive even three times more than the president of the Republic earns annually.  And then look again at the qualifications of these honchos. Take another look: see what a parlous state of affairs these agencies and departments are in, while the honchos’  bank balances are bursting at the seams. 

Have you ever heard of such disasters as: Eskom, Prasa, SAA, SABC, RTMC, SARS, Denel, PetroSA, SACAU, SALGA, NEF,  PIC,  CEF , NPA etc? Even in the height of apartheid did one ever hear of the Hendrick Verwoerds, Daniel Malans, John Vorsters, PW Bothas, etc. getting such astronomical salaries as our reigning mandarins receive?

The rot under ANC misgovernance  reminds one of the Tammany Hall political pollution. Both Tammany Hall and Luthuli House  adhered to the spoils system. The spoils persons  simply share the spoils of victory  in all devious manner. They reward their fellow travellers with  good government payroll and lucrative  positions in state owned agencies. Like the three monkeys they see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil despite being steeped in the cesspool of iniquity and inequity. Their snouty nostrils could not even smell the stench of filthy lucre that enveloped them.

The irony is this: despite the ANC’s  mantra of we love “Our  People “, they actually  despise these masses who now realise the ANC’s contempt for them only after the elections. They  would line in great multitudes to vote for the  ANC and a week later many of them would begin to destroy  public buildings and blockade public roads in revolt  against “poor service delivery “, against the very heroes whom they  have just voted in to power for the zillionth time.  Ah uhuru! How glorious our crackpot democracy is.

These masses never bother to tax their brains to decipher why their lot does not improve despite having voted for “The Transformed” and “The Transformers”; their so-called liberators.Transformation has not alleviated their poverty or reduced  unemployment , but like love-starved puppies they still salivate at the mere sight of the”Transformers “.Those who seem to have an inkling  that they are being played still fail to devise an alternative strategy.  

All they threaten to do is “not to vote ” again. Instead of saying “we shall vote against you because you have been lying to us “, they make feeble threats to stay home. Voting for the ÀNC adversaries in order to teach them a lesson never seems to tax their brains. Such a simple calculation does not exist in the minds of the electorate, hence our crackpot democracy flourishes. 

The problem is not only our leaders that we are underlings, but  our political illiteracy  which our leaders  understandably exploit. The ANC may let loose the dogs of corruption, but what worries the most is the seeming inability of the electorate to see the danger of the proliferation  of cogs and cylinders and coins of corruption in SAfrican political, economic and social life. A wealthy criminal class is fast growing  both inside and outside of politics , yet our electorate  is like Rip Van Winkle:  who was fast asleep in the midst of  a great  backward putsch.


Professor Themba Sono is a former MPL for the Gauteng legislature. He also taught at various universities in the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa as well as Taiwan.