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The people shall govern? Perish the thought!

More than 50 years ago, in Kliptown, thousands of people adopted a Freedom Charter which proclaimed that “the people shall govern”. How might they have felt if they could imagine a day when the leadership of the African National Congress would insist instead that the people are not ready to govern?

An interesting aspect of the Scorpions saga is that it shows that, while most of us insist we support democracy, some of us — including many in high places — have ideas of what it means which must be challenged, and which contradict our Constitution.

The new ANC leadership insists that, if it wants something to happen, in this case the end of the Scorpions, democracy requires that it should happen. Those of us who insist it should not happen unless the people want it are dismissed as enemies of democracy.

Whatever their motives, they are advancing a view of democracy which many people believe, here and in other parts of the world. In fact, those who insist that the ruling party has the right to get rid of the Scorpions whatever the public thinks are advancing the view of democracy which wields most influence in the world today. The fact that it is usually advanced by conservatives in Europe and America is a nice irony, but does not alter the fact that it is believed strongly by many in South Africa.

In essence, the argument is that democracy is a system in which people elect their leaders. Those who are elected have a mandate to govern on behalf of the majority and must get on with doing that. If the majority don’t like what they do, it can turf them out at the next election.

In academic language, this theory is known as “democratic elitism”. It argues that the people cannot and should not govern themselves — only leadership groups can govern.

The best the people can hope for is to choose who governs them — which is why we have elections. In between them, those who govern must be allowed to get on with the job.

Translated into South African terms, it means this. At the last election, the people chose the African National Congress. That means that they recognise that it represents their interests and want it to decide on their behalf. Those who believe it should consult the people before it takes a decision are simply looking for excuses to undermine leaders chosen by the majority.

The problem with this view is that it ignores the key element of democracy, that which sets it apart from all other systems of government.

“Democracy” is a term drawn from two Greek words meaning “rule by the people”. It differs from other forms of government in its insistence that, in principle, every adult has a right to a say in decisions. Unlike monarchy (rule by one leader) or oligarchy (rule by a few) it assumes that no-one is better equipped to decide what is good for society than anyone else and so everyone must have a say. Democracy is, therefore, a system in which the people, all of them, rule.

The people cannot literally rule because there is no way of daily polling millions to find out what they want (and because most sensible people are busy getting on with their lives anyway). And so we choose people to govern on our behalf. But, in a democracy, those who govern are merely agents, carrying out the will of the majority: ideally, in a democracy, every decision should enjoy the support of most citizens.

There is one (big) exception. If the majority could do whatever it wanted, democracy would not last because they could then prevent the minority from participating: rule by the people would quickly become rule by only a few. And so, to remain a democracy, a political system must protect the rights of minorities to speak, to organise, to vote, to do all that is required to participate. That is why the rights in our Constitution cannot be overturned by a simple majority — because the majority cannot take away the minority’s basic rights. But ordinary laws — such as that setting up the Scorpions — should, in a democracy, be passed only if most people support them.

That people vote for a party does not automatically mean that they support everything it does — we all tend to vote for parties not because we like all their policies and decisions but because we like most of them. And so a vote for a party cannot signal agreement with any particular decision or policy: it could be that most people voted for that party despite the fact that they disagreed with the policy in question. Because democracy means that the people decide, this means that the people’s opinions must be tested before the government decides.

The Scorpions debate may confirm that people can vote for the ANC and yet disagree with its decisions. Where broadcasters whose audiences are overwhelmingly drawn from the black majority, and in which it can safely be assumed that most people vote for the ANC, have polled people, massive majorities are being recorded for keeping the Scorpions. A poll taken by a broadcaster is not necessarily a reliable guide to public opinion. But if even some people who support the ANC don’t support its leaders on the fate of the Scorpions, then the claim that voters support everything a party does just because they voted for it cannot be true.

The Freedom Charter clearly understood this — that is why it demanded that the people should govern. So does our Constitution — that is why it insists that the national assembly must “facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the Assembly and its committees”. Before a law is passed or changed, the assembly must hold hearings at which the public can express themselves on the proposed change. And, if it becomes clear that the people do not want the change, Parliament must abandon it.

Those of us who believe Parliament cannot scrap the Scorpions unless there is a public consultation process — and that, if the public says it wants them to stay, they must stay — are not demanding special favours. We are insisting on normal democratic practice — if winning an election means you don’t have to ask the people, why does Parliament hold hearings to find out what the people think? And what is the point of asking what people think if you are not willing to wait for the answer and to take it seriously when it comes?

By insisting that the Scorpions must go, whatever the people think, politicians and some officials are saying that the people are not fit to govern. That is a view held by many conservatives around the world. But it is not one for which so many South Africans fought and died.

If the people are not fit to govern, most South Africans are not yet ready for democracy. That is what apartheid’s supporters insisted. We should expect a different attitude from a leadership which fought for majority rule.


  • Steven Friedman is a research associate at Idasa and visiting professor of politics at Rhodes University. He is a newspaper columnist and a media commentator on South African politics. His academic speciality is the study of democracy. He wrote Building Tomorrow Today, a study of the trade-union movement, and edited two studies of the South African transition.


  1. Eddy Variet Eddy Variet 15 February 2008

    ‘Democratic elitism’ may not be too bad if you have some ‘elite democrats’ but they seem to be in short supply….

  2. Draganov Draganov 15 February 2008

    Assesing what is happening in the current South African Political arena, one has to consider the posibility of there being a hidden agenda. Although we have a progressive constitution and progressive pieces of legislation, like the Access to Information act and the like, there are still far to many secrets. Furthermore, there are even many contradictions in terms of political statements. Whilst the ANC enjoys a massive majority, it is clear that there is no synergy between what it says, what the law says and of course the outcome of what it does. When I first associated with the movement in the early 80’s after the murder of Rick Turner, there was a profound and noble objective, clearly in line with the freedom charter. The situation as we find it in 2008 lacks strategic imperive and stinks of hidden agendas. What gives?

  3. Rivaan Roopnarain Rivaan Roopnarain 15 February 2008

    Dear Mr. Friedman,
    You make various points of undeniable validity, and this is truly a very good article. The thing is that, by the looks of things at present, the ANC government is entangled in its own battles for control of the levers of power. Where public process and consultation were meant to be at the epicenter of a democratic system, it is fair to say, that the ANC treats these concepts as mere annoyances. The ruling party NEVER bothered about public opinion on the matter of the Scorpions. Instead, Minister Nqakula stepped up to the podium beaming with indignation and said, “The Scorpions will be dissolved!” He wasn’t asking a question or making a suggestion. He was articulating what WILL happen. How can the ANC say with the same breath that it upholds democracy and constantly display acts that ignore the very tenets of a democracy? The ANC has never been more hypocritical in its existence than it is right now.

  4. braveheart braveheart 15 February 2008

    Professor Friedman, thank you for a very insightful article.

    It is important to note that despite the so called triumph of democracy in Polokwane, the emergence of the new rule by “party” consensus and the rabid nature of the responses to any criticism by the victors has one ask whether we the people are governing in this situation :

    Where a party takes precedence over a state.

    Where a party of ideologues predicates to itself the sole right to speak about what is good for the nation.

    To live in a country where a liberation movement one of many (maybe the biggest) borne out of the people first steals the victory of the struggle from the people, then goes on to monopolise the struggle, its history its prosecution using among other tools of hegemony the state broadcaster distorting history, excluding other perhaps more exemplary struggle icons not belonging to the party.

    Where the “democratic revolution” has become about one man and one party? Is it a revolution then (Professor Jonathan Moyo wrote a very interesting commentary on that)?

    Where notions of justice take precedence over the rule of law

    Where we forget that subjective notions of justice must be subsidiary to the rule of law

    A country ruled by people who may be barred from certain countries because of previous criminal convictions

    A country where when the judiciary rules against a member of the party it gets labelled all sorts of names.

    A country where civil servants who if in their duty they do not serve the interests of a certain gentleman and his clique, they are labelled as apartheid spies and sympathizers. And crass commissions have to be appointed at tax payers’ expense to investigate crass self serving allegations.

    Where, if the powers that are do wrong the media is supposed not to do anything about it. In years past a certain Geoff Nyarota editor of a state owned newspaper once exposed a corruption scam involving abuse of office by high ranking party and government officials in Zimbabwe in what became known as the “Willogate and Daimlergate Scandals” involving motor vehicles. Many resigned to tell you how important ethics and public perception were then. The President Robert Mugabe when he still had many fans praised the editor but said he had been overzealous, a kind of brickbats and bouquets scenario. How had he been overzealous? Mr Nyarota was given a desk higher up where he could not do harm. Unfortunately one cannot draw a parallel with the scenario this side where the media has received brick bats even in the infancy of democracy.

    I love drawing parallels with Zimbabwe because it is a country that we can learn from, the examples or warnings. All I see today is warnings.

    We have reached the stage in the history of all powerful ruling parties. I term it the age when the party becomes the state. China, Russia, Romania etc come to mind but the apt term will be the Zanufication of the ANC has begun. Where it mistakes itself for “the people”.

    It starts with the usurping of power from the people, by a party supposedly representing the people. It is followed by stealing and monopolizing the struggle for liberation from the people and giving it to themselves. It then proceeds to arrogating to themselves the role of ranking contributions in the struggle naturally elevating their own roles. It becomes a matter of the “victor “writing the history. Anyone not in our clique is a villain, a traitor or to use Mo Shaik’s words we cannot say for sure that they were not apartheid spies” or collaborators with the Smith regime.

    Next is the creation of the post struggle hero-king, ranking above everything, beyond judgement, the revolution incarnate himself.

    Then is the start of the making of laws for the party by the party, anybody opposed to us is an enemy of the revolution (it’s a pity the Guillotine of the Revolution is no more). When judges interpret the existing law and weigh the evidence against such laws and rule against the members of the party, they are wrong as if the judiciary makes the law. What happens next is the analysis of each judge’s sacrifice during the struggle, it is not about competence. It is about race, allegiance to party, history in the “revolution” read party.
    Usually this falls to the blanketing under race and racial lackeys. This is followed by the purging of the “anti- revolution” judges. By then the law enforcement or uniformed forces i.e. the police are now partisan, serving party interests, covering the misdeeds of party stalwarts and swearing to defend the “revolution”. The commissioner and other senior ranking officers are first beneficiaries of party policies and attend party meetings.

    The politburo, central committee or NEC or NWC is now the defacto government instructing a lame duck parliament in which the party is the majority. Sooner than later Comrades of the struggle or MK veterans or war veterans of the party demand payback for support rendered etc and arrangements are made to cater for them.

    The party begins to lose support, then it blames the whites whom they have kept in some kind of reconciliatory gesture (we are not the monsters you think we are). The party through lack of political will and capacity has not really been serious about land reform, not exercising first options of purchase but because a new black opposition has come up, strong, they hanker to the liberation struggle era and invoke all remnants of the era, land imbalances, ownership of businesses, educational inequalities (which we could have sorted). In the meanwhile our fellow blacks in oppositions we term them nothing but puppets of their white handlers and these white farmers and industrialists are funding them. “They must be punished for they are the ones feeding our people with thoughts of dissent, our people are easily corruptible with promises of this and that.” As Robert Mugabe once likened the leaders of the opposition to Legion in the Bible, imploring the Church he asked “What demons have entered into these men that thay should sell their birth right” What happens then is the party declares a war against western imperialists, if you are not for us you are for them.

    The party then comes up with the land, company grabs and massive repression by violent mobs and state machinery in the name of the fight to “retain our independence”

  5. Domza Domza 15 February 2008

    Hell, why waste time?

    Why not let’s just go straight to the direct rule of the Armed People, constituted as real-time executive, legislature, judiciary and everything else, Paris-Commune-style.

    No written constitution. No separation of powers. No “special bodies of armed men”. Instant recall.

    Maybe you are right, Steven. Maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.

  6. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 15 February 2008

    SF is going astray and leading astray.

    SA is not a ‘democracy’ somehow gone wrong because ‘the people are not governing’ – a statement quite impossible to make sense of – but a monocracy of one party offering by definition no alternative government.

    It is extremely hard to understand why commentary chooses not to face this plain fact, but we should not let it confuse us as to the two reasons why the ANC can get rid of the Scorpions if they decide to:

    Firstly, they have the power to do so because they constitute the executive and are able to overawe and nullify parliamentary or other oversight. (If they see themselves as too often frustrated by the the constitution, the worry is that they may interfere with the judiciary’s independence in ruling on it.)

    Secondly, there is no prospect of the ANC being penalised at the next election. There is nothing most voters perceive as an alternative to the ANC. They will therefore either vote for them or abstain, in either event confirming the status quo.

  7. Mangaliso Khonza Mangaliso Khonza 15 February 2008

    Proffessor Friedman, I believe is a respected political scholar who would not reduce the level of societal debate and objectivity he is rooted in for sensationalism.
    The article deals with issues of democracy and importantly the various democratic systems and governance matters.
    He refers to the decisions implemented by parliament as democratic elitism, whereby the electorate vest their power in the party they elect. I think the flaw with this view and the public opinion referred to in the article is that they are elitist and opportunistic. The majority that voted the ANC is not those that seek to villify and destroy its image and translate what the ANC says to suit their thirst for a divided ANC.

    The view seeks to say there are instances of difference between the electorate and the ANC, whereas the ANC is the representastive body politic of these views and not a machine that oils itself, but is oiled by the interests of its members, its partners and society. These three’s views interlinked within the policies and manifesto of the ANC.
    The issue of the Scorpions is one among the major issues within our democracy that is made to be of priority to the ANC and not the structuring of our crime fighting units to be efficient, coordinated and work within the objectives and principles of the rule of law and above all Act 108 of 1996 (South African Constitution).
    If this public opinion has the majority view that seeks to benefit our society, lets see the views of the rural and urban poor in these matters and whether are they major developmental issues or some among the many like free quality public education and health.

  8. Lindy Lindy 15 February 2008

    Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, Steven, it is very interesting and thought provoking.

    Until recently I assumed to understand what the word Democracy meant. I can now see how foolish this perception was, for I have begun to awaken to the fact that there are a good many types of Democracy. I am now trying to learn which type of Democracy South Africa is oficially aligned to. Can you or anyone point me in a direction that will lead to further learning?

  9. MFB MFB 15 February 2008

    While no doubt Mr. Friedman thinks he is being very democratic in his arguments, there is one flaw in them:

    Nobody knows what the “people” want with regard to the Scorpions.

    Look, we know that the people want less unemployment and more services. That’s because the people have experience of too much unemployment and too little services.

    We don’t exactly know that the people want Zuma. (Although, interestingly, many of the people making a fuss about the Scorpions, like Xolani Mangcu, insist that the people want Zuma; the same “people” who want the Scorpions disbanded.) All we know is that three-fifths of the ANC delegates at Polokwane want the Scorpions disbanded. (How many of them really care about this, and how many were voting with the Zuma slate regardless, we don’t know.)

    Steven, don’t confuse the media and the pundits with the “people”. Maybe the people support the Scorpions. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they don’t care much. You have no idea, and nor does anyone else, because nobody has asked them — and in fact, since the public knows very little about the Scorpions (the media support has whitewashed them whereas there are obviously huge problems with the unit), even if the public want the Scorpions retained, they’re probably not well informed enough to have a valid opinion.

    Which is one of the problems with our democracy; the public is not informed, because we have no free press.

  10. DuoDecimal DuoDecimal 15 February 2008

    Mr Whelan, you’re just wrong. First, democracy is not defined by how many parties contest a turn at the wheel. It’s way more than that, and we’ve worked hard to make sure our democracy doesn’t boil down to your caricature.

    The whole point of Steven’s article is that executive oversight can happen (mainly through the constitutional court), has happened in the past, but should happen much more, preferably through parliament and the public hearings process (which as Steven elaborates is currently bunk). No matter how many statements the ANC makes about the Scorpions’ future, or how much work the DoJ has already begun, the fact remains that an act of parliament must be amended before the Scorpions are dissolved, and anyone is open to challenging any part of the process in the constitutional court, on the grounds Steven describes. That’s what ‘unconstitutional’ means! I hope those interested (opposition parties or whomever) understand this. Dr Friedman surely can’t make it any simpler?

  11. owen owen 15 February 2008

    In 1994 I did not even consider leaving the country, now in 2008 after all my neighbours (white, indian and black nogal!) have left the country I have become rather pessimistic. Maybe I read too many of these blogs.

    btw good post

  12. Ali Ali 15 February 2008

    When the ANC decides that it wants to go against the will of the people, there is nothing that can stop it. That is the problem. And that will remain the problem. That is why people, admittedly mostly white people, but also some black people, are worried. It would be a worrying development in any democracy, whether the ruling party be mostly black, lesser-spotted or magenta. So, if white people complain, it is not always because they are “rabid racists” or “harking back to the past” (even though some of them are). It is because they love this country.

  13. Dave F Dave F 15 February 2008

    It now seems (15 Feb) that there is likely to be a big barney in the Concourt on a vital question: the separation of powers. If the challengers lose, the judicial arm will be more or less lopped off.
    Corruption, schmorruption.

  14. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 15 February 2008


    If you look again, I did not say ‘democracy’ was defined by the number of parties (currently I believe there are something approaching 20, but the one that counts looks bent on getting rid of the Scorpions). I did not say anything about ‘democracy’ at all: I said SA is a monocracy.

    If you disagree, it is for you to be clear what the word ‘democracy’ means for you and to decide if SA is living up to it.

    There are no rules. The word ‘democracy’ has no clear or agreed meaning. What is important is not to believe a thing is such-and-such because it is said to be.

    As for many issues or wrongs being ‘open to challenge’, legal or otherwise, this would certainly be part of anything I applied the word ‘democracy’ to, but hardly make up all of it.

  15. Jon Jon 16 February 2008

    In 1950, had you been there to see the Freedom Charter created at Kliptown, Steven, you would not have been allowed to be a member of the ANC. Not, of course, because of the DF Malan regime’s laws, but because of the ANC’s own admission rules.

    Whites were excluded from full membership. So were Indians. They could join the Congress of Democrats and the SA Indian Congress and express support and sympathy for the ANC’s cause, but the ANC leadership — ever since 1912 — would not let them join the actual ANC itself and enjoy full voting rights.

    So “democratic” simply isn’t a founding feature of the ANC. Nor is “non-racial”.

    Funny how few people are told this, eh?

  16. Brandon Brandon 16 February 2008

    Yeah yeah — so what are you a proposing, a national referendum before government signs any document?

  17. Brandon Brandon 16 February 2008

    There are no secrets. Just a few intent on keeping the gravy train well oiled, and they are not exactly making a secret of it.

    For an innocent man the deputy is going to extra-ordinary lengths to prevent the NPA from getting evidential documentation. Surely as an innocent he should welcome the documents, which must of necessity prove his innocence!

    And behind the deputy who is so terrified of what those documents might reveal is an NEC filled with convicted felons! Yes, they have payed their dues – but still , they have a track record of fellony!

    In fact we might hold the record for the number of ex convicts in any political party in the world?

  18. Paddy Paddy 16 February 2008

    Nyami Booi, ANC MP, NEC member, leading the charge to disband the Scorpions in parliament is one of the numerous NEC members currently being investigated by the same Scorpions – he is to appear in Cape Town court to face travelgate charges (Mail & Guardian 15/02/07).

    “Selective justice” is one the complaints (used by Zuma as well) – what they mean is “why me?” If certain individuals have committed crimes and not been investigated the investigation should be extended – not as these whining ….(words fail me) seem to believe that they should all be let off.

    The shameless way that this is being carried out is damaging the image of both the ANC and the country – shame on all of you calling for the disbanding of the Scorpions!

  19. cool down. cool down. 16 February 2008

    Prof. Friedman is discusing the Western concept
    and understanding of democracy.The fact is that
    it simply does not exist in Africa.

    I has become a means to control and once it has
    been achieved those in power will do everything
    to retain it.

    Robust debate in parliament and, on these
    blogs are simply frowned upon by the ruling
    party hence the ancouncement in parliament.The
    NEC now featuring previous convicted fraudsters
    has spoken and is the law of the Medes and Persians
    in time to come comments such as these may be
    followed by a visit of the security police.

    THis is how it started ain Zim,so better get used to it.WE can save ourselves a lot of money by

  20. cool down. cool down. 16 February 2008

    second half of story.

    by disbanding Parliament and putting the NEC
    in control,because it has spoken loud and clear
    at Polokwane and left Pres. Mbeki no room t
    maneuver and reduced him to a puppet on a string
    of whish the strings are held by the NEC.

    Democracy by the people for the people,never
    in your life in Africa.In Africa democracy is the
    rule by the few elected by the many,so get used to it.

  21. IncludeEveryone IncludeEveryone 16 February 2008

    @Lindy – something that might be of interest:

    (and something I’d like to hear Prof Friedman’s views on; with reference to the viability thereof in the SA context)

    Look for info on “Direct Democracy” – an interesting alternative which seems to work quite well for Switzerland (for 800 or so years with little interruption).

    I don’t think that any power crazy politician would ever be interested though since it removes almost all power instantly.

    Thanks for the article.

  22. Jon Jon 16 February 2008

    In 1971 Switzerland’s last “direct democracy” canton abandoned it as unworkable any longer.

    Tiny Switzerland was divided into literally hundreds of cantons and virtually every man — only men could vote — could walk to the town square and “vote” by shouting yes or no on an issue put to them by the burgemeister who was the sole judge on which shout was the loudest. If you had more pressing work to do — say being in the middle of performing heart surgery, milking a herd of cows or painting a fresco — you wouldn’t bother showing up to shout your vote. Nor would you if you were drunk or studying for an exam or sleeping in readiness for the night shift.

    Effectively, all democratic decisions are made not by the citizens but by male activists with time on their hands and by urbanites within easy range of the town square.

    No surprise that it wasn’t a success. It’s a surprise it lasted until 1971.

    A modern equivalent would be to decide every issue by an internet poll. Everyone would be as far from the town square as the nearest computer, removing the exclusion-by-distance inherent in the cantons. There could by a 12 hour or 24 hour window of opportunity to vote — removing the exclusion-by-incapacity inherent in the cantons.

    But you, the reader, can easily think of what other gatekeeping mechanisms there would be inherent in this “solution”. And they would render it unacceptably flawed, wouldn’t it?

  23. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 17 February 2008


    You make a point of great importance and it is important to add another to it, even though both points will be widely ignored.

    The thing to grasp is that ‘democracy’ in the days of the Freedom Charter was understood differently from how (many) people understand the word today. That should hardly surprise us: the world is a different place now; the times and what different generations were/are struggling for have changed.

    In this same way ‘democracy’ was understood in a completely different sense in, say, ancient Greece, pre-Civil War South Carolina, Soviet Russia and contemporary Zim, where when Mugabe wins his election again next month he will claim a ‘democratic’ victory. Could anything be more silly?

    We cannot progress until we see how empty debate around a mere word is. ‘Democracy’ has no accepted meaning, let alone a meaning for all times and places – and, therefore, no real meaning at all.

    The issue to address in our country today is not whether it is a ‘democracy’, which is impossible to settle, but whether we have clean, accountable efficient government, and if not, why not?

  24. IncludeEveryone IncludeEveryone 17 February 2008


    You need to check your facts. Switzerland still uses direct democracy, and yes, in some cantons electronic voting is used.

    It has had some changes in form over time, but it is still in use.

    Here are some starting points



    No system is perfect, and although I cannot agree with your characterisation of the problem of convenience, I still think it is much more “democratic” (in the sense of really putting the decision making into the hands of the people) than what we have.

    Of course electronic voting would be inadequate in South Africa, but maybe one of the first items to be voted on should be a large programme for digitisation and literacy for everyone :-)

    Thanks for the point of view though.

  25. Domza Domza 17 February 2008

    Paul Whelan, you want to mystify democracy in subjective terms as “how it was understood”, something that is at first glance unknowable.

    But actually the Congress of the People (that adopted the Freedom Charter) was a highly organised delegate congress that had been mobilised for on the basis of the “Call” (a document that is nearly as much of a classic as the Freedom Charter itself), by volunteers, some of them uniformed, who collected written submissions.

    This structure and procedure is not different from that used in the great mass organisations that give reality to South African democracy today. The largest are COSATU and its separate affiliates, the ANC and the SACP, the ANCYL and the YCL. Participation in these processes is not a rare but a common experience in this society.

    This frequent practice of democracy in the organisations that have been built, and since 1990 vastly expanded, is going to revitalise parliament and is already doing so post-Polokwane, and with explicit intent.

    Those who think that “democracy” is vested in the formal “sovereignty” of a paper constitution, guarded by unelected judges, do certainly have a different idea of it, but it is still plain enough and not a mystery.

    Supreme Court Judge Zac Yacoob told me, in answer to a question in a public meeting, that majority rule (i.e. Power to the People) would simply be “the law of the jungle”, and indeed, that is the core message of our supposedly “best-in-the-world” constitution, and the reason that Steven Friedman loves it so much.

    Democracy is an objective matter of fact. If you press the matter, you are going to find out that it is the utilitarianism of your final paragraph that is hollow; utterly hollow and miserable.

  26. MidaFo MidaFo 17 February 2008

    All very well but I do not trust the Scorpions either. Such is their shadowy privilege and such is the reality of SA that let us have a public consultation process and let the accused and the accusers all be examined mercilessly.
    This is not a pure matter of law. History is a large part of it. Let the Scorpions second the proposal!

  27. Jon Jon 18 February 2008

    @includeeveryone … “Direct democracy” in modern Switzerland is an entirely different beast to what it was before 1971. Today it means that the citizens of a canton can force a plebiscite to overturn a law, but only if they can first muster 50 000 signatures in support of their call on a petition. This means that their suggestion has substantial heft and it’s not half-a-dozen weirdos with a bee in their bonnet trying to clog up the system. Swiss people ALL have their written/electronically-clicked votes COUNTED now and not decided by acclaim.

    Remember that in Pericles’ ancient Athens, the public market (agora) was the parliament, and any adult Athenian free male could go there, be elected to chair the day’s proceedings, make speeches and vote on motions. Marvellously direct democracy!

    Of course, there were 300 000 people in Ancient Athens, and 200 000 of them were slaves! So the freemen could go to the market to make speeches and vote, safe in the knowledge that all the real work in their city was being done.

    Every great plan has a fish-hook or twenty lurking in it somewhere.

  28. Domza Domza 18 February 2008

    Paul Whelan has gone and written an article for the Business Day, published today. He comes out even clearer. What he is saying is that democracy is great but we must not have parties. Especially we must not have the ANC. In other words, as soon as democracy has any democratic content, he doesn’t want it any more.

    My feeling is that the harder these people (the Whelans and the Friedmans) come, the harder they are going to fall. Their sophism only works when it sits in the half-light. For example, people will ask: When did you ever organise a delegate conference of forty people, let alone 4000? So what do you really know about it?

    Friedman is a professor, and a former social lion in the world of NGOs. Whelan is an “international history graduate” and a “freelance writer”. These guys are not democrats! They are going to be exposed!

  29. Draganov Draganov 18 February 2008

    In a perfect enviroment, everything works.
    Get real, we do not live in a perfect enviroment. Reading the Blog from the top, one is presented with various opinions and points, all valid.
    Essentially, we have a Political Alliance ruling the country that has no real opposition. This party was eleceted by an overwhelming majority. This in itself creates numerous problems, especially in parliment.
    What purpose does an opposition party serve when it actually has so little support?
    Having said that, what purpose does a Ruling Party serve when their leadership openly places the political party above the rule of law and the country as an entity?
    The ANC as ruling party has probably never been under as much threat as it is right now. Not that is about to loose votes. It’s that it is about to loose the tax base that is its only source of life blood.
    South Africa is the Powerhouse of Africa. Economically it represents the more value than the rest of Africa put together. South African business is the last functioning economic asset in Africa. Take that out the equation and Zimbabwe becomes the role model for Africa.
    Logically thereafter, the income stream to the government, in terms of tax, dries up and then down comes the house of cards.
    We need to look more carefully at the life-blood of the continent if we are to have the priviledge of debating the semantics of democracy!

  30. IncludeEveryone IncludeEveryone 18 February 2008


    Thanks for the comments. Agreed on the idea that no system is perfect, although between what we have now, and what the Swiss system looks like, I know which one I would prefer.

    I could think of a number of issues for which one would likely be able to gain at least 50 000 signatures in SA (or the proportionate equivalent). I could think that the Scorpions issue might be one such example.

    Trouble is what then? The ANC thinks it has the right to make these changes based on a closed-door “democracy” to which the majority of SA people have no access to influence (no ANC branch asked me for my opinion – or do I now need to belong to the ANC for that?).

    It would need to force a referendum when there is sufficient objection.

    Gathering many signatures has been done in SA before – the abortion issue was strongly opposed in that way (to no avail of course). (I’m not trying to open that discussion, just trying to point out that gathering that much signed opposition to a highly contentious issue has been done before and is a logistical possibility.)

  31. MidaFo MidaFo 18 February 2008

    Come on Mr Friedman. This is a hot post.

    You consistently show you are an admirable intellect so you can surely tell us who the Scorpions are.

    The name sounds like a grade school invention: like Superman, Batman and Robin, the Hulk and maybe even John The Baptist or even Jesus, and like them the ONLY SON OF GOD and all.

    Although they may possibly be good for civilisation, culture and morality as you inveterately seem to imply, even if only that we would be more stupid if they were not with us, in the end my heart sullenly insists they do have a stupid name.

    I am truly fascinated and would love them to be good for civilisation as such and not to be the simple, sullen group of embedded misfits playing the system just like those they accuse that I am beginning to suspect them to be.

    Please name the individuals, be it de Kok, Chalmondely, Rhodes, Williamson, or even Biko, whatever! and analyse them in the way they do others. Our civilisation depends on it.

    Investigate everything!

  32. Lindy Lindy 18 February 2008


    Thank you for recomending that I explore “Direct Democracy”, and it has been useful to read the posts about it too.

    I must say I am struggling to grasp how a word like Democracy is used so often and in very important contexts without defining what type of Democracy is being referred to.

    With appreciation

  33. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 19 February 2008


    You are not the only one struggling to understand how the word ‘democracy’ is used so often without it being defined.

    When you hear it, be suspicious. Ask questions. Have your own ideas about what you think good government is and a fair society.

  34. Lindy Lindy 21 February 2008

    @Paul Whelan

    Thank you Paul, yes indeed the battle to be wide awake is crucial I am learning. There is no-one to blame for being mislead other then ones self.

  35. Jabu Jabu 23 February 2008

    The above blogs reflect something disturbing although I fully agree with Prof (in that there are various forms of “democracy” although there’s a true democracy that is said to be utopian and extraordinary radical by neo-liberal commentators).

    My point here is very clear (it is related to the Scorpions and the exercise of power-of-choice the “people” have, more especially when it comes to either support or oppose the ANC’s decision on the future of the Scorpions).

    Who are these “people”, who are said to be in DESPARATE NEED of the scorpions with their Media-Flirt Circus?

    Who are these “people”, who we are made to believe they enjoy watching state-sponsored bunch of so called elite crime busters (playing with the toys such as Mole Browse and Spies “spree”)?

    Who are these so called “people” who have their trust vested with a crime fighting unit (if not political crime fighting) that has been battling to deal with MEDIA-LICKS from the day they were formed. That is substantiated by their recent confessions in parliament, Asset forfeiture unit head Willie Hofmeyr said: “We have done everything possible in the past three years to prevent these leaks, including spying on our employees.”

    I hope Prof Friedman will elaborate on these “people desperately seek to protect the future of the scorpions” and what is the source of their desperation. I would really like to no why are they so desperate to save a unit that is characterised by their MEDIA-FLIRT LEAKS than the “good work” they are making.

    I wish Prof would put things into perspective in as far as MEDIA-LEAKS Constitutionality (or “democratic nature” so to speak) and these LEAKS barring on the integrity of the Scorpions (despite their “good work”). I wish he could explicitly exonerate in “democratic terms”, how JUST is our criminal justice system (in light of the Scorpions “good work” and media-driven investigation and “trialling”). I would like to get his perspective (and from other bloggers for that matter), despite the desperation of the “people” to save the scorpions from an ANC’s “non-democratic” craze.

  36. Lenda Lenda 28 February 2008

    Democracy is not perfect and might not be the answer in certain cases

  37. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 8 March 2008

    The Romans, who had a massive empire to manage, asked the question “who guards the guards”. This is why most developed democracies have two crime busting forces (FBI and Police in the USA; MI5 and Police in Britain – as well as a specialised force, Scotland Yard). If you, Joe Citizen, have knowledge about a corrupt scorpion, you tell a cop; if you have knowledge about a corrupt cop you tell a scorpion. Simple!

    The Scorpions investigate organised crime, which means they have a lot of powerful, rich and connected people trying to undermine them. They were trained half by Scotland Yard, and half by the FBI.

    From evidence coming to light it appears that their enemies employed computer hackers to corrupt their files to undermine them – and, of course, these were probably also the source of the leaks.

    The real question is why is the government supporting the criminals trying to undermine the scorpions?


    Why don’t you start to address the problems of democracy in, what is effectively, a one party state.
    Without a reasonably strong multi-party democracy (which ensures that the ruling party can be chucked out if it is corrupt or inefficient,) then there is no real democracy.
    Inevitably South Africa will become more corrupt , more inefficient and more autocratic.

  39. Sam van den Berg Sam van den Berg 7 February 2009

    Steve glad you mentioned “democratic elitism”. I’ve been trying to get a response from the SACP on the following — but they obviously don’t talk to mere mortals.

    In 1988 Joe Slovo, General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), wrote “increasing numbers of our people understand the essence of Lenin’s political maxim: Without revolutionary theory, there can be no real revolutionary movement.” (current SACP website)

    Blade Nzimande, the present General Secretary of the SACP, is now one of the most influential and vocal members of the Tripartite Alliance and it is time that he and the SACP share their views on “revolutionary theory” with the voters. Is the SACP now a revisionist social-democratic party, as many voters may believe, or is it still an orthodox revolutionary movement following in the footsteps of Marx, Lenin and Stalin? When Gwede Mantashe, Chairperson of the SACP – and Secretary-General of the ANC – uses words like “counter-revolutionary” does he use them in the context of orthodox Leninist “revolutionary theory”?

    Comrades Nzimande and Mantashe should tell us whether they and the SACP still accept the most basic doctrines of orthodox Marxist-Leninism –

     Do they regard the SACP is the “vanguard of the proletariat” (Lenin)?
     Do they believe that it is the task of the vanguard of the proletariat to institute “the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Marx, Engels and Lenin)?
     Do they agree with Lenin that “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is rule … that is unrestricted by any laws.” (Lenin. The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky)?
     Do they agree with Lenin that “The dictatorship of the proletariat … cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy … for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must suppress them … their resistance must be crushed by force …(The State and Revolution)?

    Furthermore –

     Do they accept the traditional Communist strategy of hiding behind “popular fronts”, using ostensibly non-Communist parties which are in fact subservient to the Communist party?
    Does the SACP see the Tripartite Alliance as such a “popular front”?

     Does the SACP secretly regard the “money-bags” in the ANC as members of the bourgeoisie that they intend to suppress on Judgment Day? Have they told the ANC fat cats of their intentions?
     Does the SACP respect our constitution, or are they merely paying lip service to it as part of their revolutionary strategy? If the ANC/SACP loses the election, will “revolutionary theory” decree that the election outcome be rejected and the “counter-revolutionaries” “crushed by force”?
     Does the SACP intend to face the electorate in its own name, with its own party list and with its own policies in 2009, or do they intend to continue their strategy of skulking within the ostensibly democratic ANC?

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