Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, September 16, 2005

The novelty shows
Much has been made of the recent BBC World Service/Gallup International poll comparing the perceptions of various countries as to whether its citizens feel that their country is run by the will of the people. IOL trumpets the fact that "only in Scandinavia and South Africa do the majority believe they are ruled according to their wishes". This may be true, but one has to look at its antecedents.

South Africa is a very young democracy, only just ten years old, which when placed against a century-long battle for the overwhelming majority of the country even to have the pleasure of voting in a democracy, is not a long time at all. We are still a liberation democracy, and thus every person feels great pride in the democratic process and values its process. Only recently have we started to feel the winds of change, with certain segments of the population demonstrating against slow government delivery. But, I would suggest, even these people would agree that overall, South Africa is run by the will of the people, because it hasn't been run by the will of the people for over a century. The frame of reference is different in south Africa versus other countries.

Take a look at the US, whose population has had democratic principles for over 200 years. 60% of their population polled stated that the country was not run according to their wishes. Those respondents would be answering with specific issues in mind, as the mature democracy is largely based on issues voting. For example, a respondent would answer 'no', because Roe vs Wade has not been overturned, or because the US went into war with Iraq. In South Africa, we have a much wider view of what constitutes the "will of the people", as from the Freedom Charter, it is what the majority of our country were using as their "constitution" during the struggle against apartheid. To say 'no' to that question in South Africa, would imply a tacit suggestion that it was not the "will of the people" to overthrow apartheid.

This will in time change, but for now the answers to that question, and thus the results of that poll, have to be considered against our political history to draw real inference.