I generally am a great fan of and appreciate the fact that I live in a country known as a democracy. Theoretically I doubt there are any fully democratic countries but for all practical reasons us in the West (yes, we consider ourselves as part of the West here at the southern tip of Africa) enjoy the freedoms and advantages of democracy. And I know of at least two other top dogs who will be more than glad to back me up on this one:
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Winston Churchill
“Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honourable form of government ever devised by man.” – Ronald Reagan
Two recent cases of the democratic system at work have recently highlighted a possible downside to democracy however. One occurred here on home soil while the other took place Down Under.
The first case is actually just plain crazy and could just as well have been a case for the downside to a dictatorship, or more appropriately a theocracy. The honourable president Jacob Zuma took some time out to have a word with his supporters in Mthatha, Eastern Cape Province this past weekend just to remind them why it is better to vote for the ANC in the up-and-coming local elections. He gave it to them straight saying that “when you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven. When you don’t vote for the ANC you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork … who cooks people… when you are carrying an ANC membership card, you are blessed. When you get up there (heaven), there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card, you will be let through to go to heaven.” This is no joke, it happens where I’m from. Google ‘Zuma’ and ‘heaven’ if you don’t believe me.
Next in line is our friend Tony Abbott, Australian leader of the opposition party, who does not have the various options of crazy talk African leaders are blessed with. He actually said something considered a bit insensitive by many (mainly those opposing him – that bit works the same all over the world). A tape of him speaking to a member of the US military was shown where they discuss the circumstances that lead to the death of an Australian soldier. During the conversation Abbott mentioned that ‘sh*t happens’ and this is what got so many Australians upset. He has in the mean time apologised to the deceased soldier’s widow and defended his position with the backing of the Australian defense forces themselves. There is now some debate regarding the context in which he used the words and whether such words should be used by someone in his position at all but as far as my discussion on democracy goes that is beside the point.
What got to me in both the case of Zuma’s and Abbott’s statements is that we, the people, throw our votes at certain politicians because of relatively empty words. Maybe you are not one of them or maybe you won’t fall for the same lies oppressed and desperate people, such as most of the ANC voters, fall for. Reality is though that most of us are swayed by sweet talking politicians come voting time, rather than we consider the fact that we can simply look at what they and their party has been standing for over the last few decades and know exactly how they will govern the land. Some are suggesting that Abbott’s words might cost him and his party dearly come the next election but does the words and the sentiment behind it represent the general position of his party on core issues or not? We love to vote with our emotions rather than using our common sense – I have made myself guilty of that in the past as well.
So think again before you fall for the next ‘Yes we can!’ or ‘Free Coke and doughnuts should you vote for us!’. If we, the people, vote like fools we undermine the concept of democracy, we are the reason for its failure, we are the reason we live under some lesser form of government. I’ll leave you with more from Winston Churchill but this time his argument against democracy:
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”