Toyi-Toying on your ballot

Mar 09, 11 Toyi-Toying on your ballot

Posted by in Politics

“Courts deal with bad law; voters must deal with bad politics” (Justice Skweyiya at para 308 of Merafong Demarcation Forum v President of the Republic of South Africa 2008 (5) SA 171) There is a spectre that is sweeping through regimes that do not deliver – the spectre of being chucked out by protestors fed up with this failure to deliver. Tunisia and Egypt – and possibly (hopefully?) Libya – have shown that denying people a formal mechanism for expressing their grievances (such as through voting) is no way of guaranteeing one’s position of power. Voting is by no means a panacea for South Africa’s ills. It does allow us, though, to change our political circumstances. There people who were denied the vote protested ‘their’ governments out of office. South Africa is rather curious in this regard. Here people vote the government back into office, and then decide to protest about the lack of service delivery. This is a decidedly back-to-front way of engaging in politics. More importantly, it’s harmful to the democratic system. Voting is a privilege and a right which, historically and currently, was struggled for rather than unproblematically conferred. At its core, it says that all the members of a political community should have a say in how their lives are to be governed. South Africa prides itself on attempting to create an open space in which this expression can occur: be it at the ballot box, by making submissions to parliament, or through challenging legislation or government conduct in court. Citizens are therefore encouraged to hold their government accountable on an ongoing basis. However, the ballot box – which has its quirks – remains the cornerstone of our democracy. This is because voting is a relatively straightforward and cheap way of expressing your views. You queue for a bit, put an X in a box & voila!: you have (to some degree) stated how you feel the country and your municipality should be run. True, this is not a perfect...

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One Wonders, What’s Next?

Feb 23, 11 One Wonders, What’s Next?

Posted by in International, Politics

We are in the second month of 2011 and one wonders, what else is the world in store for. In the last last couple of weeks, Egypt, Libya, Iran and Yemen have erupted into chaos. Citizens have to gone to the streets demanding that their leaders step down. On average these leaders have been in power for over twenty years. All this occurring as the world is still reeling from the news of civil unrest in Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire. One thing stands out, the people of Africa and the Middle East are ready for change. They have forced it on leaders who still thought the had another term in office. They are ready to enjoy their civil rights of living in a free un-oppressive state where they are no longer beholden to the whims and insecurities of their presidents. There has been some success, Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali were ousted. On the other hand Laurent Gbagbo still holds obstinately to ‘his’ office. The issue is that these leaders feel entitled to their position of leadership. It stopped being about serving the people of the country a long time ago, if it ever was. On the 17th of February 2011, Yuweri Museveni the president of Uganda for 25 years as of this year was quoted asking: “Why are people so agitated? The economy has grown, we’ve brought peace…” This indicates the general apathy certain leaders have towards democracy. He actually still believes he has ‘unfinished business’. This sounds so familiar, wasn’t Mubarak concerned that if he stepped down, Egypt would descend into chaos, as if the already looted capital did not demonstrate that the chaos he feared was already underway. For all the disdain some might have for democracy, it carries out an important task. Leaders are prevented from believing that they are the only factor that ensures development and stability. Even if they do, democratic practice dictates that one should not be in power for more than two terms. For the...

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Why is no-one talking about Malawi?

The successful popular uprising in Egypt has raised various questions. Questions like, “to what extent did the sustained interest of foreign media enable protests to continue for long enough to be successful?” Attempts by security forces to shut down foreign media reporting, as well as the interest of foreign governments, in response to the concerns of their own people, seem to suggest that the presence of foreign media helped. Foreign media coverage seemed to open up or at least sustain a space for protest in a country where the leadership was attempting systematically to shut down the democratic space – a vital factor in the success of the Egyptian protests. Egypt is lucky. Most African countries don’t get that kind of media attention. Malawi, for example. Malawi hasn’t been under dictatorship for 30 years but they do find themselves in a situation where increasingly draconian laws are being enacted by a president determined that his brother is going to succeed him, and where local objections are having less and less effect. When governments shut down the democratic space and limit the local media, foreign and international media play a key role in opening that space back up and giving the people a voice. The Malawian government recently passed amendments to the penal code that give the information minster the power to ban any publication deemed contrary to the public interest. The amendments also harden Malawi’s stance on homosexuality, explicitly criminalising lesbian relationships. Local courts were recently created, raising fears of a modern reincarnation of the “traditional courts” used to persecute political opposition under Malawi’s previous dictatorship. They also create a parallel (and incompatible) legal system with magistrate’s courts, undermining justice and equality before the law. The Muslim Association of Malawi has joined the Catholic Church in expressing concern about the press laws and infringements on personal freedoms, such as the ability of police to search without a warrant. Police have also been instructed to shoot to kill when criminals are caught ‘red-handed’. In the...

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A New Dawn for Egypt?

Feb 09, 11 A New Dawn for Egypt?

Posted by in Politics

“Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it is almost impossible to eradicate.” Dom Cobb, Inception. The seed of democratisation has been planted in the minds of Egyptians from all spheres of life and is a seed that is now beyond containment.

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Egypt: The Herald of Neo-Liberalism in the Arab World?

Feb 02, 11 Egypt: The Herald of Neo-Liberalism in the Arab World?

Posted by in International, Politics

A lot has happened in Egypt in very little time. Hosni Mubarak has attempted time and time again to equivocate some manner of grasping onto power just that little bit longer, like a hobo and his crackpipe, which has resulted in firm rebuffs from a young Egyptian population sick of dictatorial rule. There have been deaths, naturally, and there was a fear that the revolution would not be televised, but none of this has dissuaded the common mistrust for anything tainted by the touch of Mubarak. The anarchists must be squealing with delight… …But lessons we could learn from Egypt are still premature. The situation is fluid and a lot can change very quickly, and anarchic rule is almost certainly a childish fantasy right now. Attempting to divine what the long term international relations impact of this would be foolish right now, as it’s quite simply too early to tell. Once the dust has literally settled, IR pundits can start stroking their crystal balls and making grand prophecies of sweeping reform across the Middle East. And perhaps there is a grain of truth to this. What we have seen are a slew of largely-authoritarian, hardliner Arab states being subjected to everything from mild protest to outright revolution in the hundreds of thousands. But the one major pattern we can definitely see is a strong urge by Arab citizens towards democratic political systems. One tenet of neo-liberalism recommends the geographical and actual spread of democratic principles, economic, political and social (probably in that order too), and there is a grain of this occurring in the region at the moment. They want the vote, they want fixed terms on their leaders, they want freedom of speech. Previously in the Arab world these things generally only existed in the strangest  of places such as, ironically, Israel and a newly-liberated Iraq. But with Tunisia opening the floodgates, there is a strong desire, or at least the atmosphere of it, for democratic reforms. Syria has promised some minor improvements already, Jordan...

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