What should we make of the Defend Our Democracy SA Campaign?

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A variety of organisations and individuals have signed a declaration of support for the newly launched Defend Our Democracy programme of action. And at two recent launches, ANC veterans pledged support, to what is generally understood to be a non-partisan campaign.

Mmusi Maimane of the One South Africa Movement stands along side the likes of ANC veteran Cheryl Carolus, Black Consciousness Movement veteran, Mojanku Gumbi, professors Salim Abdool-Karim and Glenda Gray, SACP secretary-general Solly Mapaila, the South African Council of Churches (Sacc), former President Mbeki and Sheila Sisulu, who have all spoken out in defence of our democracy in the face of present challenges related to what has been described as “unrestrained large-scale looting, which has destabilised the state and brought the economy to the brink of collapse”.

How then should we respond?

The campaign will clearly be a significant voice juxtaposed to that of protestors at important hearings of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture or at major anti-corruption trials.

Prominent ANC member and former anti-apartheid activist Reverend Frank Chikane has dispelled the notion that the Defend our Democracy campaign is a pushback against the party’s so-called Radical Economic Transformation group, saying “It’s not just about the former president [Jacob Zuma] defying the Constitutional Court ruling, but it’s about that dark practice and tendency that has been happening over the years”.  Adding that the time has come for ordinary South African citizens to take a stand because “the people are the last line of defence”. 

The campaign has however made it clear where it stands on Jacob Zuma’s defiance of the State Capture commission and the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court. 

It is, in my view, short sighted of Adriaan Basson, News 24 editor in chief, to say that the movement is effectively a pro Ramaphosa vehicle… signalling Ramaphosa is running low on support and needing outside help while he preaches unity”. This sad assumption was however soundly refuted by a show of ANC unity and support for Ramaphosa during his KZN (a formerly pro Zuma region where anti Ramaphosa sentiment may have been expected) visit this weekend.

Intra-party battles are of course to be expected as a feature of democracy. If this is not happening to some degree within parties, their commitment to democracy should be in question. What we are presently witnessing within the ANC however, is clearly going above and beyond as individual agendas are becoming so brazen as to threaten the party itself. Individuals seem obsessed with their mission and fully prepared to allow their own party to be damaged in the process. The ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule being a case in point although he is not alone in this behaviour, across political parties.

Perhaps the fact that electoral reform (allowing individuals to run for office at a provincial and National level) is on the cards thanks to a Constitutional Court ruling, explains the present levels of lack of constraint within parties. I must say I did not expect these changes to affect political party affiliation quite so quickly, but there you are. The human tendency to be selfish, greedy, controlling, manipulative and power hungry have been quick to manifest as constraints are removed. Without boundaries and constraints, we humans are not a pretty sight.

On the upside, the power of political parties has been challenged and the face of South African politics may never be the same again. We will face new challenges to be sure but now is a good time to face the new challenges fearlessly but wisely having past experience and the closely related strengths and weaknesses of human beings, as our guide.

It seems to me that a new approach to reporting has also emerged, as a return of professionalism and real journalism, has taken center-stage. This response by journalists to the confusion of fake news and casual opinion shared on social media is nothing short of genius and to be highly commended – and supported where we can.

They have not wasted time crying over ‘spilled milk’ but defended our democracy by highlighting the value of truth seeking and transparency alongside freedom. Freedom to be right and freedom to be wrong, freedom to behave honourably and freedom to behave dishonourably, but freedom to face the consequences of public opinion and the rule of law.

In my opinion, we should welcome and support the newly launched Defend Our Democracy programme of action, keeping in mind of course that ‘there are always many agendas within agendas’ something I point out so often. Politics is by necessity, in the mix as present and future politicians enter the fray using this platform, so… put on your political sunglasses so as not to be blinded by the glare – and do your bit. Remembering what Churchill so aptly said about democracy being the worst form of government except for ALL the others, we can confidently but wisely support efforts that produce greater unity in diversity and not uniformity, that prioritise ensuring the impact of our actions impact positively on the people of South Africa as a whole and individually and that bitterness, revenge and hatred do not fuel our efforts but instead justice, unconditional love, forgiveness and mercy, do.

We live in a fallen world, where everything and everyone are in need of redemption BUT don’t forget everything and everyone are redeemable. As Christians our relevance in today’s world depends on us responding to situations in real time but we also know there is a bigger picture and our goals will always have longer term implications.


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