So there has been a bit of tension at Polokwane. So supporters of one presidential candidate have been shouting down and booing leaders associated with his rival.

Welcome to democracy. While some people might be worried about the happenings at the ANC conference over the past few days, I think it is great that democracy is in action in such a lively way.

South Africans are notorious for dumping ourselves down. We always think the glass is half empty. We never acknowledge when one of us has actually achieved something great.

Maybe we need to look at the ANC conference differently. Maybe we need to look beyond the obvious rowdiness and see it as a positive sign that citizens of this country can take so much interest in who is going to be the next president of the ruling party and probably the next president of the country.

I know it feels uncomfortable and, like many others, I also shook my head in disbelief at the way delegates were behaving at the ANC conference, especially during the opening ceremony on Sunday.

But after thinking about it, I feel that we need to acknowledge that democracy is not pretty. In fact, in most countries in the world, democracy is very ugly.

What come to mind at the moment are scenes from the British Parliament where MPs and leaders are routinely shouted down.

In fact, the way delegates at the ANC conference acted on Sunday is no different to the way MPs act in Parliament on a daily basis. And here I am not only referring to ANC MPs. Bad behaviour is much older than the ANC’s involvement in Parliament. Bad behaviour is probably as old as democracy itself.

Of course, all of us would have loved the ANC delegates to be more considerate and tolerant, but if one considers what is at stake, then one can understand why the tension is so high.

We are talking about the potential future leader of our country, after all.

My challenge to all the people who watched the ANC in-fighting live on SABC2 on Sunday is this: If you are so upset by what you saw, then what are you going to do about it?

Are you going to become involved in the ANC and make sure that this kind of behaviour is not repeated in future? Or are you just going to sit on the sidelines and complain about how ill-disciplined “they” are? Are there ways in which you can influence behaviour within the ANC without joining the organisation?

These are, for me, more important issues than worrying about how badly behaved ANC delegates were. For me, it is more important to make sure that we are able to change that behaviour.

Otherwise, democracy in South Africa will remain ugly.

We have an opportunity to show the world that, once again, we can do things differently. Nobody believed that we could work and live together after so many years of legalised discrimination in our country. Yet we showed that we were able to put the past behind us in 1994 and work together to build up this country.

Now we can show the world that democracy can be pretty, even though it is ugly in most other countries.

We have survived apartheid. We can survive a few rowdy ANC delegates.


  • Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is executive chairperson of the Cape Town Festival, which he initiated while editor of the Cape Times in 1999 as part of the One City Many Cultures project. He received an international media award for this project in New York in October 2006. His personal motto is "bringing people together", which was the theme of One City Many Cultures. It remains the theme of the Cape Town Festival and is the theme of Race. Ryland has worked in and with government, in the media for more than 25 years, in the corporate sector, in NGOs and in academia. Ultimately, however, he describes himself as "just a souped-up writer".


Ryland Fisher

Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is...

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