Sunday, April 19, 2009

I am the greatest threat to democracy

On Wednesday South Africans go the polls in what some have called the most important general elections since 1994. Many are worried about the recent abuses of power by the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), and there has been much talk that the ANC is now posing a threat to our young democracy.

But the ANC does not pose any threat at all; we should not be worried about our politicians. Rather, we should be worried about our citizens. It is you, me and every other South African who are the threat, because we are the ones who now, through the ballot box, have an opportunity to either keep the ANC as is, or to restrain their power. But of all South Africans, there are three groups who pose the greatest danger.

The first group are those who complain that the ANC has never provided them with water, electricity or housing. They sit around in squalor, bitterly upset over the ruling party, but not brave enough to vote against it. When asked if they will vote in next week's election, they reply: "We are very upset, so we will not vote at all." With this flawed thinking they sit around, waiting for government to take their problems away.

The second group stand around braais on Saturday afternoons and complain that South Africa is "going to the dogs" and will end up just like Zimbabwe or "the rest of Africa". When asked if they will vote, they reply: "I'm not going to vote because all politicians are corrupt. Anyway, I belong to a minority group, so my vote won't make any difference". They sit around, waiting for someone to blame.

Then there are the 'lazy citizens' who do vote when elections come around, but do nothing to strengthen democracy in the interim. They refrain from taking any part, however small, in civil society. When things go wrong, they are normally the ones who plead: "but I did not vote for the ruling party", as if this absolves them from personal responsibility. I admit that I fall into this group. It's a scary thought to think that because of my own laziness, I am the one who poses the greatest risk to our democracy.

I think personal responsibility is what is lacking in the groups I describe above. Many South Africans seem to yield themselves to other people or to circumstance, either by waiting for someone to make their lives better, instead of making a start themselves; or by complaining about problems without taking any effort to contribute to solutions. By voting, a person takes the first step to lifting herself out of powerlessness.

But even for those who choose not to vote, we will all be responsible for the results of next week's election. If we give any party too much power, and if this power eventually leads to a form of tyranny, then we have only ourselves to blame.

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