Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Blogging has, I know, been a little thin on the ground of late. Andrew has exams coming up and I have, in fits and starts, been trying to gain some real momentum on my research. But, fear not, Southern Cross is not dying...

Malegapuru -- better known as William -- Makgoba, who became a household name for allegedly fabricating aspects of his CV while at Wits, and who was also one of the sole dissenting voices on Mbeki's AIDS policies, is now VC of my alma mater, the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

I was thus a little disappointed to read this article in the Sunday Times, in which Makgoba discusses the significance of the election results. The overwhelming victory of the ANC shows, he says, that "South Africa belongs to and should be enjoyed by all of us who live in it." But what does this mean? That by voting for an opposition party one is, by definition, fostering division? The undertone, as far as I can see, is that only the ANC embodies the true spirit, or future, of the country -- that by voting for anyone else one is somehow betraying what it means to be South African. Quite evidently, we need look no further than Zimbabwe to see what a dangerous idea this is.

Makgoba also argues that opposition parties are unnecessary to preserve a strong democracy. His reasons?

To answer whether democracy is stronger in countries where keen competition between political parties is the norm, we need look no further than the US, Italy and the UK.

Is freedom in these countries greater than here? The answer is no. Is governance and ethical conduct better? The answer is no.

In short, the existence of opposition parties itself does not guarantee or protect a healthy democracy.

But this, it seems to me, misses the point. Those who are concerned about the dominance of the ANC are worried about the future of South Africa, not its present state. And the experience of other countries does seem to suggest that, in the long-run, one-party systems are not conducive to a healthy democracy. One cannot rebut this argument by pointing to the state of South Africa now.

Makgoba, in fact, seems to recognise this when he proposes that, instead of opposition parties, South Africa should establish an independent institution to ensure that the ruling party implements its election promises.

Unfortunately, this simply doesn't strike me as a workable idea. As I've argued on previous occasions, one of the key problems with one-party systems is that so-called independent institutions -- such as the judiciary -- become beholden to the ruling party. In other words, they eventually become staffed with individuals who owe allegiance to those in power, and are therefore independent in name only. Makgoba's "independent institution" would, I fear, quickly go the same way.

More to the point, what powers would this body have? No, I'm afraid that this simply isn't a viable option.


At 2 June 2004 at 22:40, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is typical of Makgoba, he expressed similar sentiments in 2003. What I find disturbing is that support for any party other than the ANC is viewed as "unpatriotic".


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