FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Helen Zille exaggerates the DA’s importance


Former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille exaggerated things more than just a bit when she said: “If the DA dies, South Africa’s democracy dies. This is why we need to get it onto a growing course again.”

While it is plain to see why any political party would want to grow, the DA overstates its significance if it, like Zille, believes that its demise would mark the end of democracy in South Africa. It would certainly be a loss to the democratic project, but not the end.

This type of exceptionalism is dangerous. Imagine if the ANC were to say that without it, there would be no democracy. Surely there would be much deserved uproar?

Beyond the official opposition exaggerating its own importance, the ANC is such a divided mess that even if we were a one-party state, we would still have a semblance of a multi-party democracy.

You can put virtually any policy on the table and you would have as many differences – some even violent – as you would expect from a multi-party legislature.

In fact, one of the main glues that holds the ANC together is the external threat of some other party displacing it as governing party.

Losing power is the ANC’s worst nightmare, hence it would do anything in its power, even tolerating, defending and forgiving bad leaders and internal foes, lest it be seen as sending a message to the opposition that it agrees with their assessment of things and persons.

A vibrant and vigilant civil society, not political parties, is the greatest asset to democracy. Politicians are by their nature interested in the next election rather than the next generation.

South Africa can do without politicians, especially when the system is such that MPs, MPLs and councillors (with the exception of ward councillors) account to the party rather than voters.

Civil society in the form of groupings working in the areas of education, health, environmental preservation, governance, media and free speech, human rights (including for migrants and LGBTI+ communities) can say with good reason that without them, our democracy would be an empty shell.

South Africa is eternally indebted to organisations such as Corruption Watch, R2K (Right to Know), Abahlali baseMjondolo, Equal Education, Future Families and many more who translate the rights on paper into lived realities.

Without these organisations, the rights of the homeless, those who cannot afford decent education and migrants would be as good as non-existent.

Without the likes of Corruption Watch, Cash Paymaster Services – who had illegally won the tender to disburse social grants – would have gone on to wrongfully pocket R361 million instead of being ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeal to repay that money to the South African Social Security Agency.

Without intrepid and investigative journalism, many villains would be walking our streets undetected.

So, if South Africans are worried about the future democracy, then they should care about the social movements that have become the guards that guard the guardians.

Political parties will come and go, but for as long as there are poor and marginalised, civil society will always be there to be the conscience of the powerful and the indifferent. Long may they continue being the true voice of those waiting for the democratic dividend.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.