Friday, March 19, 2004

Nick's fallen for that old chestnut that Africa is special and therefore needs a special kind of politics. Not for us the bruising encounters characteristic of Western political systems nor the sharply differentiated ideological positions that cause them. We're not special of course, although the rhetoric suggesting that we are trips off the tongues of the kleptocrats, dictators and genocidal maniacs that Africa often endures. The idea is useful when you are oppressing your people and undermining democracy.

I really shouldn't have to point this out, but the reason that in open democracies the political system typically divides along similar lines is not because there is something unique to the West. It is because in normal societies there are usually no more than 3 or 4 major cultural, social and political cleavages. Hell, if you like Marx then there is only one. This holds as much for SA as for Britain. Conservative vs liberal, socialist vs free-market, left vs right. Get the picture? These schisms assuredly exist in South Africa, they just tend to get subsumed by that other major divide in SA, black vs white. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. We need to make sure that we don't fall for this stuff. When people start believing that there is something about their country which makes normal democratic politics difficult they've conceded a major principle to those who have no respect for democracy.


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