Brief, succinct, clear, defined, a term that interpolates the rigid rhetoric espoused by the gauntlet missions of Amin, Hitler, Mussolini and Kim- Jong il. Shadowing figures that marred history with a thick, obfuscating coat of blood and the dark intrusive primer of power, the idea of it atleast .A morose precursor to the dismantling of collaborative systems etched by citizens, who envisioned peace and prosperity. Ideals that have become the nucleus to any of the romanticized works of political literature that stand as a measuring tool to order and the moral compass of a nation. We’ve seen these all throughout history, in many forms, from the Declaration of Independence, the Gayanashagowa,the Freedom Charter to most recognizably the Constitution. But when we speak about democracy though, this last one holds special significance, it’s a document that has long and powerful permutations on how a country is run and becomes a template, a reference point rather, for all interactions any government has with its people. Power regimes may come and go but this document filters out any potential reigns of supreme power by any one individual in any nation and creates the best form of what we know as civil society today. It’s essential in any democracy, pivotal even, but once reflected on, it remains an ideal, an idea, a compact organization of thoughts, ethereally folded away in time, perishable if exposed to the harsh, conniving reality of the political world we live in. So with clear thought, a question arises from this , a question that pokes at the validity of our Democracy in the age of the enlightened and civil , can we still describe South Africa as a Democratic country.? The first answer is yes, the assiduous and penchant one, the theoretical one, one that lives in idealism, one that trenches under hope and naiveté and cuddles frailly on belief, clinging at its poetic core and pushing against the cold winter of apartheid.
But once you look closely, you start thinking of the famous Alan Corenk quote “Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.” His pessimistic observation, stringed with wit and dark commentary, has less humour now when we place it in context, when we open our eyes to the latest revolts against our Presidency, the anti-government protests, the realization that business hierarchies influence cabinet activity, now rather his lines sting with the piercing reality of half truths. Not pleasant by any stretch, but necessary, when you have an enemy plucking on the ideal, remapping its contents to fit his narrative. This new enemy comes in a cloak, a new title, a new term, a puffed up tie and amiable demeanour, described sufficiently by the complex and newly coined tag of the “authoritarian populist”. The closest synonym you would be able to find for this new breed is dictator, but this one is different. This new form is embraced instead of getting scorned, adored instead of being abhorred, admired over getting deposed, you’ll find his name casually wilted in water cooler conversations, front seat taxi humour, millennial Twitter memes, never really getting confuted, instead is embraced with laughter and cheer. Reminding us as with all great comedies, it’s not scary if it has a laugh track behind it, after all Everybody Loves Jacob. You see how effortlessly that slipped in there, that’s how this new dictatorship works, it ignores the finite conditions of reality and instead goes for the pleasant punchline, the gimmicks, the three point lighting set up that lulls you into thinking everything can’t be that bad, he’s a funny guy. He runs a party that has been ruling for 23 years, with catchy taglines like “Asinavalo” “Awu lete umshini wami”, he’s parodied in chicken ads, he’s the darling of stand-up comedians, in his latest episode he dismissed a cabinet of ministers overnight, without explanation or addressing them, he hired instead a cabinet of inexperienced loyalists to play supporting roles, and if you watch closely during the ad breaks you can even see the corporates that fund his sitcom, and oh did I mention he has a disease incubating shower?
Wait a minute if we take out the laugh track this starts to seem ridiculous, not even funny, this is pretty serious, this doesn’t look like a democracy anymore, this is starting to look like a dictator in a puffed up tie and juvenile gimmicks.
That’s exactly what happened when Ahmed Khatrada’s letter to President Jacob Zuma was read out at his funeral; it sounded more like someone writing the script to a pre-apocalyptic documentary, with real long standing permutations, solid facts, and scientific astuteness of the grim reality that needed exposition. As Kgalema Mothlante relayed the ghastly vision of a fallen hero in front of past political heroes who stood in solidarity at the hum of the battle horn, we began to hear reiterated waves of “He must be stopped’’, “This has gone on for far too long now”, that’s the tone now, the national dialogue.
But he can’t be stopped, if you strip the show, you have to abruptly sacrifice, the 30 million viewers and that’s not how democracy works, we have to vote for our leaders and if you don’t like him you have to vote against him, but we can’t vote against him because that means we have to vote for some other party, so we’ll just have to keep voting for them until the party decides they want to change him..That’s the logic, that’s the democracy and what’s Everybody Loves Raymond without Raymond? With clear sobriety and the remote in hand, we have to ask ourselves do we still live in a Democratic country? This time without the light hearted background jingles, the bright lighting and episodic laugh track. We have to reflect and place this DVD box set under the Non- fiction banner, next to the dusty documentaries of Amin, Hitler, Mussolini and Kim- Jong il, not too close as to confuse the two, just close enough to remember to watch it with rigour, logic and the succinct clarity we’d inspect the old dictators of yesteryear.
Because to stop a man who doesn’t respect the fragility of the constitution, we won’t need poets, we’ll need revolutionaries, protectors, mavericks, otherwise the constitution just stays an ideal, an idea, a compact organization of thoughts, ethereally folded away in time, perishable if exposed to the harsh reality of Jacob the Ruler.