Glenda Daniels
Glenda Daniels

Booing deepens democracy

Booing is now part of our democracy, whether you like it or not. It is so mainstream; it cannot be taboo. It happened at the ANC’s Polokwane conference and it happened at Mangaung. It will happen at the next conference. Should it have happened at former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial is the question?

Booing shows a very post-modern, fluid democracy in action: full of fights, splits, disruptions or contestations. And just when you think you can pin something down, it gets unsettled and ruptures. Especially populist power. This is what happened to the popularity of President Jacob Zuma. He thought he had it (power) in the bag after his comrades Zwelinzima Vavi and Julius Malema said there would be blood on the streets, if he didn’t get it. He got in, and Thabo Mbeki was unceremoniously booed out. Now Vavi and Malema are out. But how “in” is Zuma now, given the boos? That’s how fluid politics are in South Africa. Zuma’s power now hangs in the balance by a precarious thread. Nothing is fixed and settled in this post-modern condition.

Initially when I heard the boos at Mandela’s memorial, I thought I was dreaming. Disturbed, I thought: “Oh no, this is not what our darling Nelson Mandela would have wanted.” He stood for Ubuntu and compassion. His whole essence was kindness. How lacking in graciousness, and how terribly unkind to boo even a president such as Zuma like that. Yikes. Eish, and stop.

Sleeping on the issue, in just one night I changed my mind. Once upon a time, in an ANC of old, such an expression of free floating and spontaneous feeling would not have happened. But that was the ANC of old. The leadership were the kings (and sometimes queens) of what was acceptable and what was not. It’s over. The culture has changed. The democratic centralism of the ANC, or the top-down culture, where decisions are made from above, and the lower echelons have to toe the line, that’s over, for good. Decisions such as spending on Nkandla are still made from the top, but South Africans on the ground are saying: we don’t like it. We do not like it, one bit.

With more reflection and hindsight, the booing and substitution signs (for changing “leadership”) were done in such a calm and disciplined way compared to other things going on at the unforgettable memorial service. The whole event was a bit discombobulated in a typical post-modern, all over the place, scattered-ness. People were singing and dancing, while speakers, such as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, were talking. She was oblivious, because on that strange podium, where the elite sat nice and dry, she was cut off from the crowd who were soaked from the rain and covering themselves in supermarket plastic bags. People were captivated, for a bit, by American President Barack Obama, who admittedly is a dynamic speaker. Obama, when he wasn’t speaking was “flirting” with the Danish prime minister. Then they took selfies before Michelle sandwiched herself between her husband and the prime minster, to prevent any more “flirting”, presumably. To add to the discombobulated-ness of it all, the deaf community was very puzzled by what the fake interpreter, who said he was having a schizophrenic episode, was signing about.

Back to the booing. Mandela would not have been turning in his coffin, in my view. He would have been smiling, I hope. What a lively democracy, he would be saying. Show them your anger, and tell them not to be so arrogant and take you, their voters for granted. As tribute after tribute pours in, many people talk about how Mandela listened, genuinely interested. Indeed, if he hadn’t stood up for his rights (and the rest of ours too), as the Bob Marley song went, where would we be today? He would have listened to people’s dissatisfaction with their lives, with service delivery, with poverty, with unemployment, in our country, which boasts the highest inequality gap in the world. It was after all Mandela who sacrificed part of his salary to make a difference, to education. Since then, we have had many gates: Nkandlagate, Gutpagate, the list is endless. These gates should have resulted in resignations. They have not. Now we have the right to protest.

Thank you booers. Let’s keep the gate open to expressing anger. It’s not taboo any more to boo leaders. It is now fully entrenched in our democracy. Let’s boo, until they wake up. Until they put others first, before themselves.

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    • chico889

      I agree with practically everything you have said, other than your attempt to connect all of this with post-modernism. Throughout history, people have booed and turned on leaders who have mislead and oppressed them.

      Let us be clear. Truth has not been relativised. The pain of the poor is not illusory or relative. The people are not being fickle. They have not rejected the good things for which (parts of) the ANC once stood. It is Zuma’s ANC that has betrayed the truths and values which it once promised. The tendency towards corruption in proportion to the security of power one acquires is also as old as the hills.

      The solution is also clear: the people must strip power away from those who have it! Hopefully they will use the ballot box to do this.

    • lesiba

      I fully agee with your statement Glenda . Zuma must leave the office,we tired……

    • lesiba

      I fully agee with your statement Glenda . Zuma must leave the office,we are tired……

    • Tofolux

      I think sometimes we are far too liberal for our own good and I wonder if the author has explored the avenue of this new SA phenomena of “liberal belligerence”. I am deeply grateful to Chief Matanzima and the Mandela family who condemned this behaviour in the strongest possible language. This behaviour was wrong and it was unacceptable. For any person to condone it, explain it, or even to contextualise it, makes of it nothing but intellectual mumbo-jumbo. In any case, this mumbo-jumbo has no moral high ground and it relegates the explanation to complete non-sense. So can I caution some and others to be consistent when they talk about behaviour and attitudes especially when they talk of a better SA society. They must learn to rise above non-sensical explanations and constructively engage around issues of tolerance in our society. In fact it is their responsibility to utilise all platforms to correct our normalisation. The booing is abnormal behaviour. No wonder we have all these challenges of intolerance in our townships, where houses are burnt, where innocent women are attacked, where children are at worst in constant danger and this from their neighbours, their peers and a particular section of society. This liberal is exceptionalism is dangerous and it will harm us and clearly once again, those who have the intellectual capacity to give us solutions, fail to do so.

    • http://na a. afonso

      The booing of leaders is a sign of dissatisfaction with Government leaders and should tell them that they are NOT governing. I agree that it is a worrying sign but a Government that governs for the people should have nothing to worry and this is not the case with this lot we have, so let us remove them at the ballot box.


    • RubinB

      I do not believe arguments should be sorted out by booing. This would mean that democracy depends on who has the largest number of (booing) followers. Issues should rather be debated in a civilized manner, as Helen Zille suggested when she challenged Zuma to a public debate. Naturally, he declined the invitation, for reasons we can only guess.
      And when he and Zille appeared on the same stage in Langebaan recently, she was booed by a crowd wearing ANC T-shirts. Our good man Zuma did absolutely nothing to stop them; he did not even apologise for the behaviour of his supporters.
      So now he should not be surprised when people who do not like him, boo him on occasion.
      I think our political leaders should sit down (even behind the scenes) and agree on the way they will in future be conducting themselves in public. Or is that too much to expect from our good man Zuma?