I haven’t signed the petition

voteI haven’t signed the petition. Not that one, anyway; the one in which an angry nation is calling on Thuli Madonsela to remove Jacob Zuma from office.

I haven’t signed it because I have an irrational fear that it might actually work. I worry that, given enough signatures, Ms Madonsela might somehow be legally obligated to go to the Presidency and to wrestle Mr Zuma out of his chair, down the passage, and into some sort of container with breathing holes punched in it. Which would be upsetting for everyone involved. (I’m sure she can hold her own in a bare-knuckle brawl, but nobody wants to see a person as poised and serene as the public protector get all wheezy and sweaty as she eye-gouges a thrashing head of state.)

Mainly, though, I haven’t signed the petition because I’m not really sure what it‘s demanding. I mean, if the plan is for opponents of the ANC to remove Zuma from office within a week or two, without the co-operation of his party and without consulting the constitution, then isn’t that just a coup? And if that’s not the plan, and the point of the petition is to force Zuma to see how unpopular he is, then I’m not sure a document signed by 0.4% of the population is going to give him sleepless nights.

Then again, maybe I’m just confused by the wave of online activism swamping us, for example, the proposed “tax boycott”. As I understand it, this is a plan to force the state to listen by cutting off its allowance. Basically, it’s a game of fiscal chicken in which taxpayers hope the government will blink first. It’s going to be a long wait: there are parts of this country where the government hasn’t blinked in 20 years.

My main concern with the tax boycott, though, is that it ignores the damage it would do to our most vulnerable compatriots. If you managed to turn off the money tap it would mean you’d also turned off social grants and basic services. The state would scramble. It might even give you what you wanted. But in the meantime babies would die and grandmothers would starve. Have we really reached the point where we would knowingly destroy poor families in order to inconvenience a rich one in Nkandla?

But let’s opt for a best-case scenario. Let’s imagine that the petitions and boycotts work and sense prevails and the country smells of ubuntu-flavoured apple pie: what then? How do we come back from having set that kind of precedent? Surely if we start believing in the power of petitions rather than the rule of law we are completely at the mercy of the most vocal groups? After all, if we believe in the validity of a petition calling for a president to be removed by a civil servant, then we must also respect the results of a petition that calls for homosexuality to be outlawed or the death penalty to be introduced or white people to be repatriated to a bog in Flanders. We must be ready to live in a country whose policy is created on Facebook and is governed by a parliament of Likes. You might want to live in a Buzzfeed article — You‘ll Never Guess What Crazy Legislation Just Got Passed! I‘m Crying! — but I prefer my laws crafted by experts.

Yes, I know that the government seems reluctant to put the constitution first. I know it needs a kick in the rump. We all know this.

But we also know what the remedy is.

Basic civics.

It’s boring as hell. It has none of the Wild West glamour of sending the Lone Madonsela to face off against Jake the Joker at high noon. But unfortunately it is fundamental to the future of this country.

For 20 years I’ve assumed that democracy was something that just sort of happened; a basic self-regulating machine that ticked along, powered by the inherent goodness of people and a shared belief in not being kak. But of course that’s simply not true. Democracy relies on informed citizens demanding democratic leadership. And democratic leadership is a crop that must be endlessly husbanded, weeded and, if necessary, burnt out and replanted.

It’s repetitive work. It can be tedious. It requires knowledge, too: a smattering of economics, a smidgen of law, a spot of political theory — just enough knowledge so that when we complain we don’t sound like a medieval slop-stirrer blaming his scurvy on the spells of Jewish shape-shifters.

And then? Next year, we put theory into practice.

We vote.

No more, no less.

Forget Facebook. Ultimately, a piece of paper posted into a cardboard box is the most powerful technology we have.

If we’re learning, the results will show it. If we’re not, well, I’ll see you all online.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

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21 comments

    1. . . . . right at the end you got a sentence correct . .

      democratic leadership is a crop that must be endlessly husbanded, weeded and, if necessary, burnt out and replanted.

      that’s all I want – get rid of the weeds

      And they will never cut the grants hastily – that’s their vote.

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  1. I am afraid though that the whole world is a bunch of Romans playing fiddle whilst Rome burns. We are living on a planet that is dying ..or are we going to continue to pretend that resources and supplies are endless?Whole species have been wiped out whilst we continue to myopically act as if only our species survival counts.As if humans could live without biodiversity etc.We are continuing to harp on about racism when really we should have moved onto speciesism.Bigger picture guys ..future generations do not need to inherit fouled up waterways..nuclear problems and the effects of factory fsrming.These are all things fat cat goverments and the people who hang onto their coat tails do not take unto consideration .We have ti look at our consumerist culture..future generations deserve nore than to be presented with the dried out bones of a kentucky fried chicken world.

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    1. I am super confused about the relevance of your comment. Are we supposed to be OK with corruption because of environmental considerations that should be put ahead of everything else?

      Do you mean to suggest that we should just all give up and die so that other species can live?

      Does social protests and marches increase carbon footprints?

      I appreciate that this is the comments section and the internet is rife with comment section absurdity, but grandstanding about consumerism and environmentalism on the back of a political discussion re coups and taxation takes it to a whole new level.

      What exactly are you suggesting Vivienne? Should we do away with governments altogether and feed the fat cats to the animals? Should we get rid of borders and infrastructure so that animals can roam freely and declare a laissez-faire in terms of survival?

      OR

      Should we maybe, just maybe apply our minds and use democratic principle to oust a cancerous lecher and in doing so hopefully foster stronger governance with greater respect for the law, who will stop using the country’s coffers as their own personal piggy bank, thus ensuring equitable spread of resources to all departments that require it, including the many national parks, animal sanctuaries and shelters etc? Should we maybe just rather do that?

      Or shall we just continue to grandstand in comments sections?

      PS – is this you? https://www.facebook.com/1562888517320865/photos/pcb.1662551930687856/1662537027356013/?type=3&theater

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  2. Wow I must admit that’s an angle I didn’t consider in the heat of the moment. What you said requires no dispute although I would like to think that we have experienced a coup before with the removal of Mbeki and therefore it wouldn’t be the first time this happens if perceived as a coup would simply mean that “if you live by the nana you die by the nana” kinda thing. The freedom charter says the people shall govern – what does this really mean in a democracy? How far is the government will to extend this statement. I am unhappy and I am in that 0.4% of people who are unhappy and am frustrated by the people in the cabinet. The sense of apathy by the ruling party is clear as daylight and so when people are upset they are going to try and make that clear even though it might have little impact or non at all but social media have served as a form of outlet.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am afraid though that the whole world is a bunch of Romans playing fiddle whilst Rome burns. We are living on a planet that is dying ..or are we going to continue to pretend that resources and supplies are endless?Whole species have been wiped out whilst we continue to myopically act as if only our species survival counts.As if humans could live without biodiversity etc.We are continuing to harp on about racism when really we should have moved onto speciesism.Bigger picture guys ..future generations do not need to inherit fouled up waterways..nuclear problems and the effects of factory farming.These are all things fat cat goverments and the people who hang onto their coat tails do not take into consideration .We have to look at our consumerist culture..future generations deserve more than to be presented with the dried out bones of a kentucky fried chicken world.

    Like

  4. Well reasoned, Tom, but I believe that you (and many others) are missing the gravity of the current financial situation the country is facing. It is going to be interesting to see what comes in the budget in early 2016, when the wishlist of the powers-that-be is revealed to the tax-paying and the grant-recipient public.

    The demands of those on the receiving side of the budget far exceed the ability of the government to raise the required capital. It is a given that local economic growth is insufficient to outpace even the population growth, let alone to provide the additional costs of the country’s borrowings, even at current levels.

    Financially, this country should have declared a state of emergency, and we should be in intensive care. We are not suffering from a simple stubbed toe, but have had our throat slit. We cannot wait till 2019 for the treatment we so desperately need, for by then, the patient will already be dead.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am rather reluctant to reply. But here goes: We cannot simply walk away. The obvious, as obscene as it is, must be done. So yes. I did sign the petition/s. How far are we gonna allow this stray dog to walk before it becomes a rescue? Your point, squire, however beautifully articulated, is invalid.

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  6. The upside of all this social chatter is that it could convince otherwise ignorant/undecided voters or even non-voters to vote against the ANC that holds Zuma in office.

    While knowledgeable voters would be best, it’s inevitable that most voters don’t know much about politics beyond the few murmuring they hear on the news. If they hear on the news that so many people are opposed to Zuma, and perhaps why, they are more likely to learn about the links from Zuma to the ANC to their ever-increasing grocery bill.

    I don’t expect action from the social networking hoo-ha directly, but I expect secondary results.

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  7. I signed. We have no notable culture of basic civics (yet). The selflessness, sophistry and bloody mindedness of endured civil pressure does not resonate with the zeitgeist. I didn’t for a moment believe the petition will work (hope you’re wrong), but rather that failed efforts will create learning for better efforts and at the very least pronounce our common belief in probity and prosperity for all.

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  8. I wonder. I signed the petition, felt compelled to do something right now. The wait until 2019 is interminable. The petition got a ball rolling in the right direction. It isn’t/wasn’t big enough to make JZ’s head roll (unfortunately) but it did make enough noise that forced the ‘government’ to listen. I believe an early election is being called for from various quarters, amongst whom Vavi and Maimane. Please God.

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  9. While trawling the various news articles and social media platforms, it was interesting to note how many people mentioned needing a cleansing, how many of us feel dirty because of the so-called leader of the RSA. How tainted we are. Clicking the ‘like’ button, signing a petition is reaching for the tap.

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  10. After all the opinions, talk and waffle, Tom has hit the nail on the head. All the marches & facebook comments are not going to make the ANC thieves recall Zuma. Only the voting population will do that. But it needs to be done before 2019.

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  11. I would think that the petition signers and march attenders are already voting for the opposition. So this is a way to not only show our displeasure in Zuma, but moreover to make other people aware. It also shows people who feel alone in their contempt of the current leadership that they aren’t in fact alone. It gets you and others writing about it, there is a conversation an a debate and hopefully somehow sways people to vote for the opposition in the next election.

    The alternative is that we all keep quiet and do nothing, which is completely useless.

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  12. South Africa became an un-savable third world hellhole since Apartheid ended and blacks took control of the country. Hell it was already a hellhole before, white people just contained it and prevented it from exploding, retaining what little civility it had.

    Everywhere black people are in large numbers, civilization ceases to exist. It’s the same problem in the USA, it’s the same problem in Haiti and the Caribbean, it’s the same problem in some Chinese cities like Guangzhou, it’s the same problem everywhere.

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  13. This entry proves that liberalism and democracy are a religion for intelligent people. The outdated absurdities of the Abrahamic trio are replaced by a new set of absurdities designed to give relatively smarter people the sense that they are in control of the political process (it is to laugh) and feel a glowing sense of self righteousness about how kindly disposed and without prejudice they are towards the people around them (excepting, typically, those of the same color who disagree with them).

    When faced with the obvious fact that South Africa has devolved into two racial blocs voting against each other, which in turn is giving rise to corrupt populism, we are informed that the cure to this situation lies in the realization that: “Democracy relies on informed citizens demanding democratic leadership. And democratic leadership is a crop that must be endlessly husbanded, weeded and, if necessary, burnt out and replanted.”

    Which is to say we are told something that sounds good but means nothing, and worse, shows that the person who said it hasn’t thought through democracy carefully and arrived at realizations that would puncture that grand sense of moral superiority.

    Democracy relies on informed citizens demanding democratic leadership? Read as such this statement is meaningless, what is democratic leadership other than the leadership chosen in a democracy? Our current leadership is democratic leadership. The current crop has been replanted (twice), and there’s no reason to suspect it won’t be replanted a third time.

    Do you realize you are saying democracy relies on democracy. It’s as if you think by repeating the words ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’ like a mantra you’ll conjure the magic of democracy and the holy democratic ghost will swoop down on South Africa fix everything with its democratiness.

    I will admit, though, that the first part of this statement is absolutely correct and does manage to identify an important and fatal flaw in the democratic firmware: ‘Democracy relies on informed citizens’.

    The problem being that informed citizens are by default going to be a minority in most countries, as the majority of citizens are more interested in Idols, tabloids and sport than being informed. All you need to do to affirm this, besides opening your eyes to the obvious, is inspect the IQ bell curve. The first thing that happens to them in a democratic system, then, is that informed citizens, as a minority, are relieved of any sort of political power within this system, besides writing blogs or op-eds agitating for their fellow citizens to stop watching Idols and instead become more informed.

    But if you are pious enough to believe that this approach can work, and can’t, or refuse to, see that democracy as it is currently practiced is inevitably going to lead to politicians pandering to the uninformed majority, then I suppose you need to pretend that the consequences of this stupid system can be addressed without addressing the system itself. And tat this can be done either by attempting to depose its inevitable consequence or by voting really hard and slam dunking your ballot into the box after you’ve been called to the communion altar to receive the sacrament.

    Like

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