Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tony finds parallels in Israeli and SA politics
Tony Leon made a speech yesterday in Jerusalem that was partially transcribed in the Business Day today and managed to find some wisdom on the corollaries between the current Israeli situation and the situation in south Africa. In it, he states:
In Sharon’s absence, Israeli politics now faces a “de-alignment”. The two major parties that have dominated Israeli political history, Labour and Likud, are close to becoming historical relics. The one has moved to the left and the other to the right, leaving a gap in the centre. That is the gap Kadima seeks to fill. That is where most Israelis want to be, and that is where Sharon began to build his new political home. The question is whether this political arrangement will succeed, and what kind of peace process it will bring to the region.

SA, too, will one day face a political “de-alignment”. The ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has great power. But it is deeply divided and it is being pulled apart by historical and social forces it cannot control. We South Africans often congratulate ourselves on our new democracy, and rightly so. We defied the doomsayers and built a democratic system that is now more than a decade old. Yet democracy is only truly tested in times of crisis.

It has been enlightening to watch the reaction of Israeli leaders in the wake of Sharon’s incapacitation. Despite their grave concern for the prime minister, they have carried on with their duties. Most impressively, the democratic debate and discourse have continued.

The lesson for us in SA is that institutions must be stronger than the strongest of leaders. Only if democracies can build healthy, independent institutions can they withstand the shock of misfortune.

Whilst I don't believe that Likud and Labour are "are close to becoming historical relics" (quite the contrary given the current situation with Sharon), I do follow his inferences about the need for institutions to be stronger than individuals. Whilst initially, after the demise of apartheid, South Africa required a strong individual like Madiba to pull the nation together and push reform through expediently, we are fast becoming a normalised democratic state, where the emphasis needs to move away from individual leadership and towards strong institutions. The ANC's strong hold over the judiciary and other institutional organs shows that we still have a way to go in this regard.