Political Watch - Opinion

Democracy globally under threat


Grace Mugabe stole the lime light of the recent SADC meeting in Pretoria, allowing another significant development of global importance to slip by almost unnoticed.

It is common in other parts of the world that during major international meetings, protestors take to the streets to voice their dissent with the prevailing order. However, it is not very common for a SADC meeting to be used as rallying point by protestors to demonstrate displeasure.

The Pretoria meeting it was different. Although it attracted little media attention, disgruntled demonstrators from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo used the SADC meeting to stage a protest under the banner of a coalition called the SADC Democracy Forum. They demanded the resignation of the leaders of their respective nations.

They registered their dissatisfaction and anger, claiming their leadership behaved more like dictators than democratically elected representatives.

They could also add, self-enrichment, lavish lifestyles, arrogance and corruption by these and other leaders – often including extended families and friends.   

Universal trend

This is globally a universal trend, particularly in democracies. Political leadership, and politicians in general, have lost, or are fast losing, the trust and respect of the public – and who can blame them?

With few exceptions, the caliber of the current, and immediate past, crop of statesmen and women are a match to those of the past.

Trump is not in the same class as Rooseveldt or Reagan; neither is Theresa May a shadow of Margaret Thatcher, Macron of a De Gaulle, and dare one use Zuma in the same sentence as Mandela?

In years gone by, the public in general tended to trust their leaders despite mistakes and human frailties – they believed their leaders were inherently good men and women working for the common good, but that seems to be a bygone era.

The public has grown tired of being lied to. It is infuriating when someone like President Jacob Zuma, as he did during the SADC meeting, described the outgoing chairman of the SADC, king Mswati of Swaziland, as an “astute leader.”  That, while everyone knows it is not the case – the king is a throwback to the Middle Ages, ruling like a feudal lord, disallowing free speech and freedom of association in Swaziland.

But, the most appalling trend, aside from the seemingly compulsive lying, the insatiable craving for self-enrichment, and the blatancy with which they chase such opportunities.

South African example

There is apparently no limit to the methods used by politicians at various levels. In South Africa, even murder has become one method of choice. In KZN alone politically motivated murders since March 2014 is nearing triple figures with, incomprehensibly, no arrests.

The Moerane Commission of Inquiry established in October 2016 to investigate the political killings in the province, has been told that corrupt politicians and rogue members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) are involved in many of these murders.

 KZN remains the main killing fields in SA for politically motivated murders, but it has also occurred in other provinces.

Wider afield

Compared to South Africa, political murders might not occur as often in the rest of the world, but as stated, political corruption and -nepotism is a global phenomenon.  

Donald Trump, caused a lot of unease when, after winning the presidency, included close family members without any political-, and governing experience to his inner circle of advisors. It is unsettling to think how the most powerful politician in the world preferred family to battle-hardened and experienced advisors. 

The newly elected French president recently felt the wrath of the French people when he tried to elevate his wife by giving her official status, and a taxpayer allowance. His plan struck a particularly discordant note as he prepares to enact a “morality” law, banning parliamentarians from employing wives and family members, and announcing strict austerity plans to aid the ailing French economy including cutting the defence budget, prompting the chief of staff to resign.

In March, after mass public protests, described as a peaceful rebellion against an unpopular and corrupt political system, South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed the country’s first female president from power. She was found guilty of corruption, bribery, extortion and abuse of power.

The public also protested against a corrupt relationship between government and big business, including one of the biggest international companies, Samsung – proving that it is not only politicians that are to blame.

The South Korean crackdown mirrors what has happened in Brazil, where former president Dilma Rousseff was also impeached and dozens of businessmen and politicians are serving time with more being charged, including two ex-presidents.

To illustrate how far the rot has progressed, the Kenyan Supreme Court in an unprecedented ruling last week declared the recent presidential election as rigged to such a degree that is necessary to nullify the result, ordering a new election within 60 days.

The court confirmed a widely held view that ruling parties in so many cases in recent years used devious and illegal methods to rig elections. It also confirmed another long-held view that the monitoring of elections by international monitoring teams is nothing but a farce. In Kenya these teams again found nothing underhand. 

It might take time, and effort, but chances are that the same awaits a corrupt elite in South Africa.

Immense pressure

Political systems in many countries, particularly the older democracies, are under immense pressure and without sweeping adjustments to regain the trust and respect of the public political systems and parties are on course to be rejected to become absolute.

What is to come in its place is difficult to predict, but a calculated guess would be a move towards populism, with promises of radical change and a dismantling and break- up of the status quo.

An overhaul is long overdue, but another danger lurks if the new trend is towards the far right or the far left because, as one commentator so correctly wrote,” Both sides are authoritarian, inimical to freedom, harmful to the economy, and dangerously appealing to the disaffected. Both left-wing and right-wing ideologies have led to severe human misery.”

The writing is on the wall and the future looks uncertain if honest men and women remain silent.

Also read: Inequality troubling world’s top economists

by Garth Cilliers

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