Recently the Institute For Security Studies And The Nelson Mandela Foundation invited me to a colloquium discussing the topic “Where is open democracy in South Africa today?” This colloquium was held in Cape Town on 4th November 2014. Unfortunately I already had a pressing prior engagement. I accordingly sent my apology for being unable to attend. Nonetheless, this being such an important subject I have decided to express my own views on the need to revisit the subject of democracy. It affects the whole world today, especially Africa.
Now, “Where is Open Democracy in South Africa today?”
This question cannot be answered correctly without defining democracy. The Western European interpretation has given it the Eurocentric parochial view that serves only Western interests. These are countries that were responsible for slavery, colonialism and racism. Their colonial rule especially in Africa was the antithesis of democracy, yet today they unashamedly pose as “teachers” of “democracy” to Africa and the world and they are continuing to destroy many countries and create much violence in the world in the name of “democracy.”
Many Western oriented people seem to believe that the mere right, to “vote” is democracy. The indisputable fact however is that people do not eat a vote. A vote that does not translate into the material needs of the people such as food, decent housing, accessible education, good healthcare, economic security and protection of life, cannot be said to have given the citizens of a country the enjoyment of democracy. These were some of the characteristics of democracy in pre-colonial Africa. Mere periodic elections too, are meaningless if they do not result in the lifting of the standard of living of the citizens.
That great martyr of Africa’s freedom and independence, Congo’s first Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was right when he declared, “Amelioration of conditions of life is the only true meaning independence [democracy] can have.”
Thus far in Africa in general, anything that does not comply with the Eurocentric definition of democracy has invited interventions such as “regime change” or “planned regime.” “Regime change” refers to non-European governments that the West does not like. “Planned regimes” are those which just before independence from colonialism have the preference and approval of NATO countries and the United States of America.
Not far from South Africa, an African country Zimbabwe has been subjected to economic sanctions in order that Zimbabwe may be ruled in a way that keeps Britain its former coloniser, controlling the economy of this African country. These sanctions were intensified even when cholera had broken out in Zimbabwe killing many people.
But Britain resisted United Nations economic sanctions in 1965 when Ian Smith rebelled against the British government and had committed treason in its colony of Rhodesia. It opposed similar United Nations sanctions against apartheid South Africa even after the slaughter of Africans who took part in the Sharpeville Uprising and Soweto Uprising.
Before 2011, Libya under Muammar Al Gathafi (Gaddafi), the citizens of this country enjoyed a “first world economy” standard of living. The country’s economy was booming. But it seems the West did not like this. As far as they were concerned there was no “democracy” in Libya. There was therefore, to be a “regime change.” Al Gathafi was killed and his regime destroyed in order to make Libya the Western kind of “democracy.”
But in 2014, Libya is being described as a “failed state.” Western governments have now run away from the “democracy” they created for Libya. Media reports have revealed that “Western countries have shut up their embassies as the OPEC oil exporter teeters towards a failed state.”
In Iraq Saddam Hussein was falsely accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction and hanged in order to make Iraq a “democracy.” After ten years there is no democracy, but anarchy and deaths of innocent civilians. Iraq is also now described as a “failing state.”
The forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have become the biggest political headache of America’s policy makers and allies. There are reports that the ISIS fighter who ordered the brutal execution of the American journalist James Foley, spoke in a British accent. Some citizens of Britain and America are reported to be fighting on the side of ISIS forces.
Despite numerous Western air strikes on ISIS which cost US $1.2billion in the month of September alone; Syria border towns such as Kobane have been under siege from the ISIS. What is the cause of this rising terrorism and inhuman brutality in the Middle East today? Is it greed for oil wealth and a rising new form of colonialism under cover of “democracy” which seems to cause more terrorism in the world?
These are hard lessons that must be learned hard and fast this 21st century before the world is caught up in an unprecedented catastrophic conflagration that will reduce this planet to ashes. Military and economic power for the domination of other nations is not the answer to world peace and stability. In any case, no nations have ever been militarily invincible forever. This is the reason why no nation should make itself the sole interpreter of democracy and grossly violate the sovereignties of other nations contrary to the Charter of the United Nations.
Because pre-colonial Africa was not “primitive” and had democratic principles before her colonisation through the imperialist European Berlin Act of 26 February 1885; the Pan Africanist Congress leader in South Africa, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe found nothing wrong with African nations learning what was good for them from other nations to improve the welfare of their people.
In those days of European “cold war” between the West and the East, Sobukwe declared, “Borrowing then the best from the East and the best from the West; we nonetheless retain and maintain our distinctive personality and refuse to be satraps or stooges of either power.”
He proclaimed, “We also reject the economic exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. We accept as policy the equitable distribution of wealth…as…the only basis on which the slogan of ‘equal opportunities’ can be founded.”
To the forces of foreign domination of Africa, Sobukwe was unequivocal. “I wish to make it clear that we are anti-nobody. We are pro-Africa. We breathe Africa. We dream Africa. We live Africa: because Africa and humanity are inseparable.”
WHERE IS OPEN DEMOCRACY IN SOUTH AFRICA TODAY?
In pre-colonial South Africa as in the rest of most of Africa; democracy was for the welfare, security and advancement of all the citizens. Unfortunately, many “post independence” African rulers under the influence of Western “democracy” have discarded many elements of pre-colonial democracy. They have replaced them with Western concepts of democracy where for instance “freedom of the press” is regarded as more important than the economic and social freedom of the people.
This applies to South Africa today, where it is considered that a mere right to vote is “democracy” and restricting the “freedom of the press” is tyranny, no matter whose hostile interests that press serves. Freedom of expression was fought for in Europe. In pre-colonial Africa, the Sesotho idiom tells it all “Mowa kgotla ha a tsekiswe.” One who expresses any unacceptable view in the interest of the nation is immune.
The Setswana language adds, “Ntwa ke ya molomo.” (the “war” must be a competition of ideas, not of violence and subjugation). Indeed, the concept that “Morena ke morena ka sechaba (rulers/kings are trustees and derive their mandate from the people) signifies the kind of democracy most Africans had before the barbarous Berlin Conference that destroyed Africans.
But even by West European standards, “freedom of the press” later meant a press that serves the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless. In South Africa, the press is shirking its responsibility “to tell it as it is;” as long as it is true and advancing justice. Justice is the foundation of democracy.
For instance, much has been said about “reconciliation” in South Africa and the country is supposedly having the “best constitution in the world.” Yet many former freedom fighters of this country such as members of the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA) have been languishing in the prisons of “New South Africa” for the last twenty years. APLA was the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) during the liberation struggle. Should there be political prisoners in an “open democracy?”
The shame of it all is that almost all the perpetrators of the crime of apartheid that was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations were granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In South Africa the media has turned a blind eye to the plight of the imprisoned freedom fighters of this country. Even the subject of equitable redistribution of land and its resources is a “no go area.”
This of course, is not surprising to informed people. From the colonial beginning, South Africa was established on two inhuman undemocratic and grossly unjust British genocide colonial statutes. First it was the Union of South Africa Act 1909 which became law on 20th September of that year. In Section 44, it stated “The qualifications of a member of the House of Assembly must be a British subject of European descent.” On 30th May 1910 this colonial law came into effect excluding Africans, the indigenous owners of the country.
Within three years, there came the Native Land Act 1913. It allocated the then five million Africans 7% of their own land. It gave away 93% of the land to 349837 colonial settlers. It added a mere 6% of land for Africans through the Native Trust Land Act 1936. This is what created such massive poverty among the African people who are today over 41million compared to 8.9% former British subjects “of European descent.” This was British “justice” and “democracy.”
The “new dispensation” arrived with a constitution that entrenched the same Native Land Act 1913 in Section 25 (7). Today it is taboo to mention land dispossession of the African people. Poverty, shortest life expectancy and highest child mortality among Africans are not seen as abnormal in a rich Azania (South Africa), a country four times the size of Britain and Northern Ireland combined. Should the media be so quiet about this in an “open democracy?”
And why did the present rulers allow such situation in their negotiations at CODESA? A “property clause”! In the constitution to protect the people who had already colonially grabbed massive African land at gun point! Did these “negotiators” not know that the primary contradiction of the African national liberation struggle from African wars of national resistance against colonialism that were led by African kings of this country, was for equitable redistribution of land and its resources?
To King George V in London in July 1914; Sol Plaatje, John Dube and three of their colleagues, put it unequivocally in their petition. “…the natives (Africans) be put in possession of land in proportion to their numbers, and on the same conditions as the white race.”
FUNDING OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN SOUTH AFRICA
Democracy demands equal treatment, justice and fairness. In South Africa funding of political parties in parliament consolidates the dominance of the ANC. The ANC derives its “strength and support” from the 1994 election results which were heavily financed by the West, with President Bill Clinton’s image maker Stanley B. Greenberg and pollster Frank Freez sent to South Africa to assist the ANC in elections that were later reported as contrived to produce a Western “planned regime” [against the “radicals.”] (See Despatch From The War Room –In The Trenches With Five Extra-Ordinary Leaders by Stanley B. Greenberg, Cape Argus 23 March 2009,New Yorker 11th April 1994 –Letter From South Africa: The Secret Revolution by Allister Sparks also New Yorker 14th April 1994).
This has ensured that the ANC perpetuates its political dominance, no matter how corrupt many of its leaders are or how disastrous its service delivery record is to the needy and poor African people, especially to those living in filthy unhealthy shacks which often burn or flood, killing many. There continues to be more economic development where whites live and less or nothing where Africans live. Is this not the absence of democracy for the African majority? Many African protesters against these conditions are often chased by police using rubber bullets.
MONEY ALLOCATED TO POLITICAL PARTIES GROSSLY UNDEMOCRATIC
In 2009 elections the Independent Electoral Commission allocated R88 million for parties in parliament. The ANC received R61 million. The DA received R10.5 million. IFP received R5.4. The remaining crumbs went to the rest of other parties.
In 2014 the IEC allocated R114.8 million for elections. ANC received R64.9 million. DA received R17million and Cope got R9.7 million. The remaining crumbs went to other parties with the more radical ones getting lesser and lesser funding.
This cannot be described as “open democracy.” It produces an election result that is still contrived to protect the status quo between the economically powerful and the economically powerless. This kind of funding has now deteriorated into a “democracy” that is a combination of plutocracy and kleptocracy bordering on kakistocracy.
A just system that ensures that the true will of the people is reflected and realised in elections in South Africa must be formulated, particularly considering that a largely ignorant majority is often intimidated and manipulated by many corrupt officials of the ruling party. Many ANC officials often tell vulnerable poor pensioners that if they do not vote for the ruling party they will not get their pension. They are giving the false impression that the pension comes from the ruling party other than from the tax payers, and is therefore, state money which any government in power would always by law give to old citizens, regardless of what political party they vote for.
DOES THE UNFAIR ALLOCATION OF ELECTION FUNDING MAKE THE ANC A MAJORITY PARTY? IF, SO BY WHOSE MEASUREMENT?
It must be noted that even with large sums of money allocated to it, the ANC does not represent the majority of voters or the majority of the country’s population. Sam Ditshego of the Pan Africanist Research Institute had a valid point when he wrote that: “According to the IEC, the number of registered voters as of November last year (2013) was 24.1 million out of 31.4 million eligible voters….But of the number of registered voters the ANC garnered 10 million votes ….If we do simple computing of the figures of IEC and Statistics South Africa, it means 14 million registered voters did not vote for the ANC…including 7 million eligible voters who did not even bother to vote for the ANC. So where do ANC leaders and MP’s get the idea that they received an overwhelming majority of votes? Do they understand what overwhelming means?” (Mayihlome 24 October 2014).
DEMOCRACY DID NOT ORIGINATE FROM EUROPE
Democracy did not originate from Europe. If there had been democracy in Europe there would never have been slavery, colonialism and racism in the world. In fact, no European colonial country ruled Africa democratically for all the years they were in Africa after their colonial partitioning of Africa among themselves.
There is no person who is well informed about pre-colonial African history who can dispute that pre-colonial Africa practised democracy. Traditional monarchies existed in many African civilisations of Africa until they were destroyed through European slave trade selling “human cargo” and through colonialism without a twinge of conscience, and with unprecedented brutality on humans.
Chief Moshodi Abiola, the late President-elect of Nigeria was aware of this inflicted tragedy on Africa by the European slave traders and colonialists when he asked: “Who knows what path Africa’s social development would have taken if great centres of African civilisation had not been destroyed in search of human cargo by Europeans?”
HISTORIANS WHO SPOKE ON DEMOCRACY IN PRE-COLONIAL AFRICA
Many informed European historians about life in Africa before the Continent was visited with the European darkness of slavery, colonialism and racism have recorded their findings. Here are a few examples to illustrate that democracy existed in Africa before Western Europe.
1. In January 1918 Sir Jeffrey Clifford writing in the Blackwoods Magazine about the “Gold Coast” (Ghana), then colonised by Britain said, “The most notable achievements that can be placed to his credit [the Blackman] is his invention, without assistance of extraneous influence of the democratic system of government and state socialism, which are the basic principles upon which his tribal policy is founded.”
2. In February 1952, Thomas Hodgkin who was Secretary of the Oxford University Delegacy for Extra-Mural Studies and Fellow of Ballial College Oxford declared. “It is no doubt flattering to our vanity to imagine that the people of Africa were ‘primitive’ and ‘barbarous’ before the penetration of Europeans, and that it was we [Europeans] ‘who civilised’ them. But it is a theory that lacks historical foundation.
3. The Empire of Ghana flourished…during the dark ages of Western Europe. By the fifteenth century there was a university at Timbuktu in Mali. The Ashanti of the Gold Coast and the Yorubas of Nigeria possessed highly complex civilisations long before their countries were brought under British colonial control. The thesis that Africa is what Western Europeans…made it, is comforting [to Western Europeans], but it is invalid.”
4. For his part the prominent African American Egyptologist Dr. Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannan has written, “The African Continent is no recent ‘discovery’. It is no ‘new world’ like America and Australia….While yet Europe was home of wandering barbarians, one of the most wonderful civilisations on record had begun to work its destiny on the banks of the Nile River” (Black Man Of The Nile And His Family page 146).
5. As if he did not want to be left behind in the race to record the important historical facts about Africa; in 1787 the learned French Egyptologist C.F. Volney, wrote, “…a race of black men who are today our slaves and object of our contempt is the same one to whom we owe our arts, sciences and even the speech” (Ruins Of Empire C.F. Volney page XVII). Volney wrote these facts during the darkest days in Africa brought to this Continent through European slave trade in human beings who were black.
AFRICA PLACE OF BIRTH OF HIGH CULTURE RELIGIONS AND PHILOSOPHY
Africa is the place of birth of high cultures, religions and philosophy. In fact, Greece, the civiliser of Western Europe got its knowledge from its Greek scholars educated in Africa. What is today wrongly called “Greek Philosophy” was foreign to the Greeks.
Ancient Greek rulers considered African epistemology from Mizraim in Africa a threat to the security of the Athenian state (Greece). They accused their people educated in Africa of harbouring dangerous ideas to Athens.
The Greek government imprisoned and exiled Anaxagoras. It executed Socrates. It exiled Plato. It indicted Aristotle. Pythagoras, the earliest of the educated Greeks who studied Mathematics for 21 years in Mizraim (Ancient Egypt) in Africa was exiled by the Greek government and also expelled from Italy. (See The Stolen Legacy by Dr. George G.M. James, especially pages 1 – 3. Also pages 437 to 443 of Black Man Of The Nile And His Family by Dr. Yosef A.A. Jochannan published by Alkebu-Lan Books, New York 1981)
Africa practised democracy long before Europe and had a civilising effect on Western Europe. The West later turned against Africa after it had acquired the knowledge of gun powder from the Chinese. They used the military superiority of the gun over the African spears in war. This is when they began to molest and terrorise Africans through slavery, colonialism and racism. Europe is not qualified to “teach” the world democracy.
That profoundly learned African Egyptologist, Cheikh Anta Diop was correct when he stated: “Ancient Egyptians were black. The moral fruit of their civilisation is to be counted among the assets of the Black World. Instead, of [Africa] presenting itself as an insolvent debtor, that Black World is the very initiator of the ‘Western civilisation’ that is flaunted before us today.”
By Dr. Motsoko Pheko
The writer is author of books such as Towards Africa’s Authentic Liberation, The Hidden Side Of South African Politics, The True History Of Robben Island Must Be Preserved, A “White” Jesus Is False History And Heresy. His coming book is SOBUKWE LED THE ROAD TO ROBBEN ISLAND.