More needs to be done to protect South Africa’s democracy

The SACBC Justice and Peace Commission, through its chairperson Bishop Joao Rodriques, has joined more than 100 civil society organizations in the country in signing the declaration to defend democracy in South Africa.    The declaration was issued at the beginning of July as an outcome of the National Conference to discuss the threats to constitutional democracy in South Africa.   It was open for signature after the conference and more than 100 civil society organizations have since signed the declaration.

Among other things, the conference which was attended by SACBC Justice and Peace Commission acknowledged that the country is faced with immense challenges that pose both direct and indirect threat to the country’s democracy.    The very notion of constitutional democracy, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are constantly being subjected to verbal attack by senior politicians.   The conference therefore declared that “the constitution….is under direct threat due to the nefarious activities of corrupt forces in our society that are opposed to democratic rule, the rule of law and constitutionalism.”

The conference discussed measures to eradicate corruption in the public and private sector, including measures to ensure that the recommendations from the Zondo Commission are implemented. Later the conference will be accompanied by a consultative process to establish a programme of action necessary to implement the declaration of the conference.

According to the Director of the SACBC Justice and Peace, Fr Stan Muyebe, during the conference, they discussed what individual politicians, political parties, factions within the ANC are doing or not doing, and how this poses a threat to democracy.   He said, “this is important.   In defending South Africa’s democracy, there is another difficult conversation that needs to happen, a conversation about the current structural arrangements of state power.” Fr. Muyebe notes that currently, the structural arrangements of state power is organized in terms of one-party dominance state.  “As the country heads towards 2024 general elections, the country needs a conversation that enables a critical assessment of the risks and benefits of this model or its alternatives including coalition government,” said Fr. Muyebe. He further asserts that in such an assessment, there are a lot of issues that need to be interrogated.  He poses a question saying in the next ten years, which model of organizing state power (one-party dominance state, coalition government or some other form) will give the country greater capacity to address issues that are important for the common good, particularly economic stagnation, corruption, unemployment, rising cost of living, capacity failures in municipalities and state-owned companies etc?   Fr. Muyebe’s wonder is if the 2024 elections were to result in a coalition government, what policies need to be put in place to ensure the coalition arrangements at the national level do not reproduce some of the pathologies that we currently see in the coalitions at the level of municipalities?   The Director of the SACBC Justice and Peace says as the country heads towards the 2024 elections, informed by the Catholic Social Teaching, the Church and the civil society will need to mobilize civic education and national dialogue on these matters so that South Africa’s democracy brings about the common good.

Fr. Muyebe also noted that during the conference, they discussed what the country needs to do to address the systemic failure in ethical leadership both in the private and public sector.  “I was sad that we did not give adequate attention to the issue of the family as the basic social and political unit, something which our Bishops have underlined in the SACBC pastoral plan,” said Fr. Meyebe. “If a country has a crisis of failure in ethical leadership both in the private and public sector, it is because the family as a basic social unit has lost its capacity to produce such ethical leaders.” Fr. Muyebe viewed that at a fundamental level, crisis of failure in ethical leadership is a functional product of a crisis of family and family values.  “If we want to defend country’s democracy, alongside policy and institutional strengthening, there is therefore a need to go back to the basics, to the restoration of family and family values as the basic foundation for a solid society and ethical leadership,” advised Fr. Muyebe, adding that institutionally, a particular attention should be directed at the capacity review of the moral regeneration movement.

The Justice and Peace Director also noted that there is a temptation to talk in abstract terms about defending the democracy of South Africa, “As Christians, we should talk about defending democracy not in abstract terms, but in terms of defending the dignity of the poor, the dignity which is created, redeemed and sanctified by God.” Fr. Muyebe points out that in the post-apartheid South Africa, the greatest threat to democracy is the government failure to bring about radical changes in the lives and dignity of the poor majority. “Maturity of democracy should be measured not only in terms of the number of people who cast their votes during municipal and general election but also in terms of the number of people in the country who have experienced restoration of their dignity through poverty eradication and integral human development,” said Fr. Muyebe. He insists that the threat to democracy, voter apathy and deterioration of trust in state institutions will persist in so far as the government is not adequately responsive to the difficult experiences that people on the ground experience in their communities, including unemployment,  rural poverty,  the rising cost of living,  the rising debt crisis in their households, drug abuse, crime, gang violence, the collapse in the delivery of basic services (water, sanitation etc) by municipalities,  Eskom crisis,  the contest for scarce resources with migrants, etc. 

The Declaration is here below



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